A former mayor in the southern Philippines who had been accused of drug trafficking by President Rodrigo Duterte was killed Friday in a predawn police raid, the authorities said.
Talib Abo, formerly the mayor of the town of Parang in Maguindanao province, was killed in a shootout with police officers who were raiding his home, the regional head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Juvinal Azurin, said on a local radio station.
Azurin said police also killed Abo’s brother, Bobby Abo. Azurin said Bobby Abo, who was killed in a separate raid, had also fired at the police.
Both brothers were on a list of about 150 Philippine officials, police officers and other public servants that Duterte read aloud on live television in 2016, accusing them of being involved in the drug trade, though he offered no evidence against them. Since then, several people on the list have been killed, including the Abo brothers.
Abo, the former mayor, had a long history of conflict with Duterte. As early as 2006, Duterte, then the mayor of the southern city of Davao, publicly accused him of being involved in drugs, which Abo denied. Duterte also accused Abo’s wife of distributing methamphetamine in Davao.
Azurin said the police found high-powered guns and methamphetamine at both of the brothers’ homes.
Abo is the 19th local government official to have been slain since Duterte took office in 2016 and launched a violent drug war, which rights groups estimate has killed as many as 20,000 people.
The Philippine National Police acknowledged last month that its officers had killed many people in the anti-drug campaign, placing the figure at more than 5,000 dead. Police said those people had been suspected of being drug addicts or dealers, and that they were killed because they shot at the police.
But rights groups and journalists have said that many of the dead appeared to have been summarily executed, either by police officers or by unknown men, some of whom may have been acting at the direction of the police. In recent months, some analysts have expressed concern that politicians were using the drug war as a cover to eliminate their rivals as nationwide elections approach in May.
In October, Alexander Buquing, a mayor in the northern province of La Union, was ambushed and killed along with his driver and a bodyguard. The previous month, a mayor in the central Philippines was gunned down by four men who broke into his office.
And in July, two Philippine mayors were assassinated within a day of each other. One of them, Antonio Halili, the mayor of Tanauan city south of Manila, was killed by a sniper during a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall.
On Friday, hours before the Abos were killed, Duterte used characteristically harsh language to threaten what he called “big time people” involved in illegal drugs.
“’You deserve no mercy if you are big time,” he said. “In front of human rights officials, I will slit your throat. I don’t care. I am telling you, don’t do that to my country. I will really kill you. So I could not be more clear.”
Chito Gascon, the head of the Philippines’ independent Commission on Human Rights, which Duterte has repeatedly belittled, said his organisation was aware of the Abo brothers’ deaths but that its staff had not yet been allowed to begin an investigation.
Also on Friday, the police announced that a second suspect in the December killing of Rodel Batocabe, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, was in police custody after having turned himself in.
Police on Thursday announced the first arrest in the killing of Batocabe, the highest-ranking Philippine politician in years to have been assassinated. They said the killing was ordered by a mayor who Batocabe planned to run against in the May elections. The mayor, Carlwyn Baldom, was still at large Friday.