Philippine Police Kill Ex-Mayor on Duterte’s Narco-Politician List

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
Philippine Police Kill Ex-Mayor on Duterte’s Narco-Politician List Montasser Sabal greets supporters during his 2010 campaign for mayor in Talitay town in Maguindanao province, southern Philippines.
File photo Mark Navales/BenarNews

Philippine police said officers shot and killed a former mayor, who had been identified by President Rodrigo Duterte as a narco-politician, after he allegedly grabbed a policeman’s gun while being transported to Manila early Thursday.

The shooting occurred a few days after the International Criminal Court’s outgoing chief prosecutor sought to open a full probe into extrajudicial killings carried out in the Duterte administration’s war on illegal drugs.

Montasser Sabal, the former mayor of Talitay, a town in southern Maguindanao province, was captured in the seaside province of Batangas on Wednesday night along with his driver and two aides, according to national police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar. 

“The suspect grabbed his police escort’s firearm while onboard the vehicle which resulted in a scuffle wherein he was able to shoot the police officer beside him,” Police Maj. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro, director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, said in a report to Eleazar. “Posing danger, the accompanying police officers prompted to use reasonable force that resulted in wounding the arrested person through the use of his firearm.”

Police did not release information about the officer who was shot. Sabal was transported to the San Juan Medical Center where he was declared dead.

“Since he died under police custody, it is part of the protocol for the Internal Affairs Service (IAS) to conduct a motu-proprio investigation,” Eleazar said, referring to an investigation launched without any referrals. “We will leave the investigation to our IAS.”

Investigators are expected to determine whether Sabal was restrained properly during the transport.

Police identified those arrested as Sabal’s household staff: Norayda Nandang, 43, and Aika de Asis, 34; as well as his driver identified as Muhaliden Mukaram, 36.

Officers said they confiscated guns, two plastic sachets containing illegal drugs along with cash during a search of Sabal’s vehicle. 

Eleazar said Sabal, a former police officer who served as mayor of Talitay from 2010 to 2013 and as vice mayor from 2013 to 2016, was facing drug charges. In addition, Sabal allegedly supplied firearms and explosive materials to pro-Islamic State militants in the south who bombed a night market in Duterte’s hometown of Davao City that left at least 14 dead in 2016, according to the chief of national police. 

“He was also considered a narco-politician guilty of dishonesty and neglect of duty and that is why an order for his dismissal was issued and affirmed,” by the Supreme Court, Eleazar said. 

Sabal’s brother, Abdul Wahab Sabal, who also served as the town’s mayor, was shot and killed by motorcyclists outside a downtown Manila hotel on Feb. 10, 2020. 

Duterte released the names of 35 mayors, seven vice mayors, one provincial board member and three congressmen he alleged were involved in illegal drug trafficking. The Sabal brothers were among those on the list.

BIFF link

Eleazar described Sabal’s death as a big blow to the supply chain of firearms and explosives to Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a militant group blamed for attacks and bombings in the southern Mindanao region. 

The BIFF is a faction that split from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest former separatist group. The MILF controls an autonomous region in the south after signing a peace pact with the government. 

Sabal’s death came three days after Fatou Bensouda, then the top prosecutor of The Hague-based International Criminal Court, asked the body to open a full investigation into Duterte’s drug war, which has left thousands dead since 2016. 

Duterte has said he would not cooperate with the ICC. Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, the president’s former personal assistant and a key ally, has said Duterte’s war on drugs would continue until he stepped down next year.

Bensouda’s report said that many of the killings in the Philippines were carried out by police officers and pro-government vigilantes as an “official state policy of the Philippine government.” 

In asking for the investigation, Bensouda said thousands could have been victims of extrajudicial killings from mid-2016, when Duterte took office, to March 2019. She left office the day after filing the request at the end of her nine-year term.

A new chief prosecutor for the ICC, Karim Khan, was sworn in on Wednesday. Bensouda said she expected Khan to carry on with the investigation.

“Police and other government officials planned, ordered, and sometimes directly perpetrated extrajudicial killings. They paid police officers and vigilantes bounties for extrajudicial killings,” the report said, adding that officials “at the highest levels of government” encouraged it. 


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