An undetermined number of gunmen shot dead a trial court judge in the volatile southern Philippines on Thursday, police said, in the fourth killing of court officers since President Rodrigo Duterte took power almost three years ago.
Regional Trial Court Judge Reymar Lacaya was pronounced dead upon arrival at a hospital after he was gunned down as he was about to board his pickup truck in the town of Liloy, Zamboanga del Norte province, about 739 km (462 miles) south of Manila, according to police Capt. Gregorio Bongolan.
“We are still investigating how many gunmen were involved in the shooting,” Bongolan told BenarNews.
In Manila, Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin condemned the killing as he urged authorities to get to the bottom of the case.
“The entire judiciary condemns in the strongest possible terms the killing of Judge Lacaya,” Bersamin said in a statement, which was posted on Twitter by the Supreme Court’s public information office.
“I am urging the authorities to exert their best efforts for the immediate apprehension of those responsible for Judge Lacaya’s death,” he said, noting that Lacaya became the 30th judge slain while in office since 1999 and the fourth killed since 2017.
Lacaya was the son of a former governor of Zamboanga del Norte, the Late Virgilio Lacaya, who served from 1967 to 1980, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In August 2017, Godofredo Abul Jr., a judge in the city of Butuan, also in the southern Philippines was shot dead while he was on board his vehicle with his wife, police said.
On June 12 last year, municipal trial court Judge Ricky Begino was walking in front of his house in Camarines Sur province, 439 km southeast of Manila, when he was shot dead by a lone gunman. Four months later, regional trial court Judge Edmundo Pintac was heading home when four men riding motorcycles ambushed him in the southern city of Ozamis.
Pintac was handling drug cases and police said the motive could be linked to the drug case against Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog, who was arrested in July 2017 in a major raid against what Duterte calls “narco politicians.” Her father, Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, her mother and 13 others were among those killed in the raid.
It was not clear who was behind those attacking the court officers, but Duterte had earlier warned that lawyers protecting suspected drug lords were fair game. He had also claimed that there were corrupt judges protecting drug syndicates.
Since Duterte took power in mid-2016, about 5,000 suspected drug dealers and addicts have been killed in what police described as shootouts during law-enforcement operations. Human Rights Watch officials have said that thousands of others were killed, but their deaths were considered under investigation or blamed on vigilantes.
Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro contributed to this report.