Philippine official denies targeting of mayors in drug war

Manila: Philippine interior secretary Eduardo Ano has sought to allay fears about an alleged campaign afoot to systematically eliminate mayors and vice-mayors with alleged drug ties, even offering to provide government security for them if required.

“We see no pattern in the killing of mayors. Each case has on its own facts. They are not at all related. In fact, only a small portion are definitely drug related,” Ano said.

The assurance from Ano came in the wake of recent assassinations targeting local elected executives. Among the most recent victims were mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan City, Batangas, on July 2, 2018 and mayor Ferdinand Bote of General Tinio, Nueva Ecija, on July 3, 2018.

A total 13 mayors and vice-mayors had been killed since August 2016, some of whom had been identified by the government as having ties with the illegal drug trade.

On July 4, a day after mayor Bote was killed, the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), a group comprising of mayors and vice-mayors, issued a public statement condemning the series of killings and violence perpetrated against local executives.

“Our country is governed by laws and not upon the caprices of men. If some people believe that their elected officials have committed an offence, they should bring their grievances upon the courts, which has the power to determine the guilt of erring officials and impose the corresponding penalty. The rule of law mandates that man should not put the law into one’s own hands, or, he will become a criminal himself punishable according to law,” the LMP stated.

Ano assured the local executives that there is no cause for concern and that the police are ready to provide additional security to them.

Under Duterte’s orders, the DILG had earlier removed control over police from the mayors.

Ano likewise said that not all of the cases are connected to illegal drugs as others speculate. “Not all the cases involving the killing of mayors and vice-mayors are connected with drugs. The rest are personal, political, and other reasons,” he said.

The interior secretary said the local chief executives only need to a request for additional security with the national police, which shall validate if there is indeed an existing threat on the mayors and if such threats are serious. “The police decides on these requests on a case-to-case basis,” he said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said that, due to perceived threats to their lives, there is a possibility that mayors and vice-mayors would stock up on weapons to defend themselves.

“If they are afraid of seeking help from the PNP, they might provide weapons to their men. This will give rise to Private Armed Groups and peace and order could further deteriorate,” he said.

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