Philippine National Police raided the home of the mayor of Ozamiz City in Mindanao, killing more than a dozen people, including the mayor, who Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte had linked to the drug trade.
Police say they entered Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog’s home with a search warrant early Sunday morning, prompting a gunfight with Parojinog’s “private army.” The shooting left Parojinog, his wife, two of his siblings, and 11 other people – including several security guards – dead. Police say they recovered weapons and methamphetamine from the house.
But there are already questions about the reliability of the police account of the incident. Senator Francis Pangilinan questioned why the raid occurred at 2:30 a.m. and why police “paralyzed” close circuit television cameras in and around Parojinog’s home, which could have provided evidence of how the operation unfolded. Parojinog’s daughter, Nova, Ozamiz City’s vice-Mayor who police arrested on Sunday, accused police of planting drugs at the scene.
Skepticism of the accounts by Philippine National Police of anti-drug operations is fully-justified. Human Rights Watch has debunked government claims of the lawful nature of the deaths of more than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers killed since Duterte took office on June 30, 2016. Interviews with witnesses and victims’ relatives, and analysis of police records, show a pattern of unlawful police conduct designed to paint a veneer of legality over extrajudicial executions.
The majority of those victims have been urban slum dwellers. But police killings of two other city mayors implicated in drug trafficking have also raised questions about police methods and accountability. In October 2016, police killed Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao in a similar shootout.
On November 5, 2016, police shot to death Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. of Albuera City in what police described as a firefight in his cell after he brandished a concealed pistol. Espinosa had surrendered to the police following public accusations by Duterte that he was a drug trafficker. Both the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Senate concluded the police officers had committed “premeditated murder.” Despite that ruling, earlier this month, the 18 officers implicated in Espinosa’s death returned to work.
Duterte has repeatedly reassured police officers engaged in his “drug war” that they will not face accountability for their actions. He has even promised to pardon them if they face prosecution for killing people. That means police will continue to kill with impunity for the foreseeable future.