A ranking police official named on President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug watch list was killed in a shootout with fellow officers in the southern Philippines, the national police said Tuesday.
The slain suspect was identified as Superintendent Santiago Rapiz, a logistics officer of the Philippine National Police in Zamboanga del Norte, a province on Mindanao island.
Rapiz pulled a gun on arresting officers during an anti-drug operation at a private compound in the city of Dipolog on Monday evening, Romeo Caramat, chief of the national police’s counter-intelligence task force, told reporters.
“He was in the drug list of the president for engaging in illegal drugs, as well as protecting drug lords,” Caramat said, alleging that the slain officer was also receiving more than U.S. $12,000 a week from suspected drug lords in the central Philippines. Caramat did not provide evidence to support his allegations.
He said an undercover agent posed as a customer and was buying meth from Rapiz when the colonel tried to escape after sensing a drug bust.
Rapiz was cornered after a short chase, but he engaged the arresting officers in a shootout that resulted in his death, Caramat said.
Chief Inspector Helen Galvez, a regional police spokeswoman, said Rapiz was rushed to Corazon Aquino Hospital in Dipolog City but was proclaimed dead upon arrival.
“The operation resulted in an armed encounter between the operatives and the suspect that led to the death of Rapiz,” Galvez said.
“Instead of giving up to the authority, he drew his firearm and fired towards the arresting elements. The operating units retaliated and fired back hitting him,” she said.
The head of the police in the central Philippines, Chief Superintendent Debold Sinas, said last week that there were active and retired police officers on the payroll of drug lords.
He said the cops were working as hitmen for drug dealers, targeting rivals and making it appear that they were slain by pro-government vigilantes carrying out Duterte’s drug war, which has left almost 5,000 dead in two years, according to police statistic.
Sinas’ pronouncements prompted the New York-based Human Rights Watch to call on the government to create an “independent commission” to investigate allegations that police officers were involved in the killings.
“The admission by a senior police official that police officers are working as hitmen for drug syndicates is yet more evidence of Philippine government complicity in ‘drug war’ killings,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.
“Given the total failure of the police to stop these abuses, it’s clear that any serious investigation of the police role in the war on drugs needs full independence,” he said.
HRW, which has carried out its own investigation into the killings, has said that about 12,000 people, more than double the police figures, had been killed since Duterte took power in 2016.
Duterte, who faces two separate murder charges at the International Criminal Court, has acknowledged that extrajudicial killings had taken place under his administration.
His spokesmen have later tried to dismiss the president’s admission, saying he was taken out of context.
On Tuesday, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo called out HRW for its “reckless” proposal.
“This proposal by the Human Rights Watch for the creation of an independent commission to go after police officers allegedly involved in the killing of drug suspects smacks of another effort of this moribund group, which projects itself as a human rights organization, to intrude into our domestic affairs,” Panelo said in a statement.
He said accusations that Duterte knew or ordered the killings were being thrown by “desperate” critics trying to undermine the government.
“This group’s latest effort to use media to resurrect an old issue clearly aims to undermine the integrity of the government’s institutional mechanisms,” Panelo said.
Luis Liwanag in Manila and Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines contributed to this report.