Filipino mayor among 10 killed in shootout as drug war enters new phase

By Reuters/Manuel Mogato and Tom Allard   October 27, 2016 | 11:24 pm PT
Police shift tactics by focusing on politicians, government officials, celebrities and high-ranking army and police officers.

Police killed a Filipino mayor and nine members of his personal body guard unit on Friday, as a new phase of President Rodrigo Duerte's bloody crackdown expanded to a list of high profile targets.

The 10 men succumbed to their wounds en route to hospital, police said after opening fire on their two vehicles at a checkpoint in Duterte's troubled home province of Mindanao before dawn.

"It was a legitimate police operation," said Bernard Tayong of the North Cotabato police office, adding that no officers were hurt but a police vehicle was riddled with bullets.

"We have information the mayor and his men were transporting drugs so we tried to intercept them but they chose to shoot it out," he told reporters.

The killing of Samsudin Dimaukom, a powerful mayor, took place far from his predominantly Muslim town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

It came as police shift tactics in the controversial war on drugs by focusing on politicians, government officials, celebrities and high-ranking army and police officers suspected of involvement in the trade.

The launch of a new plan called "Project Double Barrel Alpha" was reported exclusively by Reuters on Monday and aims to increase arrests and reduce the bloodshed in a campaign that has claimed more than 2,300 lives since Duterte took office on June 30.

Duterte took office in May after campaigning on promises to kill criminals under the banner of a clenched fist.

Duterte returned from a visit to Japan late Thursday and during a news conference waved a thick book he said contained the names of officials with suspected drug links. The book contains about 3,000 names.

"I do not want to make this public because it will just make the Filipino cry," he said.

Of those killed in the anti-drugs campaign, more than 1,600 died during police operations, a toll that has drawn international concern about extrajudicial killings.

Shifting focus

In fiercely defending the campaign, Duerte has repeatedly lashed out at his critics.

A recent poll showed public unease over the crackdown, with 94 percent of respondents saying it was important that police take suspects alive.

Police investigators said seven guns, including an Armalite rifle and 13 small packets of suspected methamphetamines were recovered from the mayor's vehicle after Friday's firefight.

The mayor's wife, who serves as the town's vice mayor, is also on Duterte's wanted list.

National police spokesman Dionardo Carlos told Reuters, on Thursday, that the drug war had expanded beyond the poor neighborhoods where low-level peddlers operate.

New targets include transport networks, showbusiness circles, nightclubs and wealthier neighbourhoods to root out drugs like cocaine and ecstasy.

Carlos denied there was a deliberate sanctioning of extrajudicial killings. He said fatalities occurred when suspects refused to surrender and police were keen to avoid violence.

"That's why we are shifting to Alpha," he added.

Since late June, 750,000 drug users had surrendered, some 30,000 suspects were arrested. Of the "high value" targets, 201 had surrendered, 66 were arrested and 14 were killed.

He said 150,000 police had been drug tested and 164 gave positive results and would be dismissed.

Police would soon receive a large consignment of body armour, Carlos said, adding instructions were being given "to make sure you are not giving (drug suspects) the chance to put your lives in danger".

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