Updated at 7:57 p.m. ET on 2019-09-11
Unidentified gunmen opened fire at a vehicle carrying a former Philippine congressman once erroneously tagged by President Rodrigo Duterte as a narco-politician, wounding him and killing one of his bodyguards who was riding in another car, officials said Wednesday.
Four other men who were traveling with Amado Espino Jr., a former congressman and ex-governor of Pangasinan province north of Manila, were also wounded in the roadside shooting by gunmen on board two vehicles, police said.
The slain member of Espino's security details was identified as police Staff Sgt. Richard Esguerra, authorities said.
"Esguerra sustained multiple gunshot wounds and died on the spot," said police Provincial Director Redrico Maranan.
There was confusion earlier about the number of slain victims, Maranan added, apologizing for the error.
Brig. Gen. Joel Orduña, regional police chief, told CNN-Philippines he had been told that the injured Espino was in stable condition and "out of danger."
Espino, 71, had been taken to the province’s Blessed Family Doctors General Hospital in San Carlos city, not far from the scene of attack, Orduña said.
Investigators were trying to establish a motive behind the ambush, police said.
Sen. Richard Gordon posted a photo of Espino’s bullet-riddled van on his Twitter page.
“This is completely unacceptable in this day and age, yet it happens with impunity. The police should be able to track down the perpetrators if they act fast,” Gordon said,
In September 2016, Duterte included Espino, who was then a congressman, in his first “drug matrix” or list of politicians allegedly linked to the drug trade.
However, Duterte subsequently issued a public apology for Espino’s inclusion, saying he was “negligent in counterchecking” the list that he had released to the public.
Since Duterte assumed in 2016, the death toll in his war on drugs has reached almost 7,000, according to official figures. Rights groups, however, estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 have been killed in the anti-narcotics campaign.
Police have categorized many of those cases as “deaths under investigation” or blamed suspected pro-government vigilantes, who leave cardboard signs on their victims.
Duterte launched the crackdown on drugs shortly after taking office. He vowed to dump the dead bodies of drug dealers and addicts and turn Manila Bay red with their blood and has since repeatedly urged police to shoot drug suspects.
While there have been some high-profile cases of politicians with drug links who were gunned down or arrested, the majority of those killed were poor people in urban areas. Despite the crackdown, drug smuggling has continued, according to officials.
The Philippine president faces two murder complaints before the International Criminal Court in The Hague from former members of his alleged hit squad and from relatives of those slain in his drug war.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City contributed to this report.
CORRECTION: An earlier version included wrong information about the number of people killed in the shooting.