Philippines mayor among 10 killed by anti-drug police

Slain mayor was one of more than 150 officials accused of drug dealing by president Roderigo Duterte in August.

Residents watch as police inspect the contents of two vehicles in which mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan township and nine others were travelling before they were killed in a dawn gunbattle with anti-narcotics officers at Makilala township, North Cotabato province, on October 28, 2016. AP Photo
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MAKILALA, Philippines // A mayor publicly accused of drug trafficking by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte two months ago was killed along with nine of his men in a clash with police on Friday.

It was the deadliest operation so far in the anti-drug crackdown launched by Mr Duterte after he took office on June 30. Police estimate that more than 3,600 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed since then.

Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan township in southern Maguindanao province had turned himself in to police in August after Mr Duterte named him and more than 150 other officials as being involved in drug trafficking.

He denied involvement and said he was fighting illegal drugs himself and supported the president’s crackdown.

On Friday, Dimaukom and the nine others were killed at dawn after they opened fire from a van and an SUV on officers manning a checkpoint in Makilala town in North Cotabato province, police said.

“Our men were forced to retaliate when the heavily armed suspects who were on board two vehicles began firing at them,” said senior superintendent Albert Ignatius Ferro, head of a police anti-drugs force.

An M16 rifle, four pistols, a 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition and at least 13 small plastic packs of suspected methamphetamine, known locally as shabu, were found in the two vehicles, said deputy regional police chief Leonardo Suan.

Police said they had received information that Dimaukom’s group was planning to transport a “huge” amount of methamphetamine from Davao city, Mr Duterte’s hometown, to Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.

Mr Duterte’s crackdown has drawn international concern over extrajudicial killings, but he has repeatedly dismissed criticism and vowed to keep his election promise to rid the country of illegal drugs. He originally said he would do so in six months, but extended that deadline by half a year, saying he was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the drug menace.

The extent of Mr Duterte’s crackdown is unprecedented in the country. Since he took office, police have arrested more than 31,600 drug suspects, and more than 750,000 people, mostly drug users, have surrendered to authorities, largely due to fears they could end up dead. Police have visited more than 2.6 million homes to urge suspected drug users and dealers to stop.

On Wednesday, police launched a new phase of the crackdown called Double Barrel, which they say will focus on “high-value targets” such as drug lords and those involved in large-scale drug production and trafficking.

Mr Duterte had said late on Thursday that he still had a long list of drug suspects including politicians, village officials, judges and policemen, showing a thick pile of documents. “This is the drug industry in the Philippines. I can’t deal with this alone,” he said, appealing to the public for help.

He appeared to issue another warning, saying that thousands more drug suspects may end up dead. He expressed disgust over criticism levelled against him while he battled a drug menace that he said had left many police officers dead.

“And to say that I should behave and keep on harping on that ... I’ll tell you I will triple it,” the president said. “If my wishes aren’t followed ... you can expect about 20,000 or 30,000 more.”

“There is a war going on, I am losing two, three policemen a day. It’s a war, how could it be ... genocide, killing a helpless person there, kneeling,” he said. “There’s none of that, we do not gather children and young men and shoot them.”

* Associated Press