Gunmen kill Philippine town mayor, 2 others, injure his wife
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Gunmen killed a town mayor and two other people and wounded the mayor’s wife in the northern Philippines in the latest brazen attack on local officials, police said Tuesday.
Mayor Alexander Buquing, his driver and a police officer were shot and killed Monday night in an SUV in Bangar town in La Union province. Buquing’s wife, who serves as his vice mayor in Sudipen town, also in La Union, received head injuries in the attack, police said.
More than a dozen mayors and vice mayors had been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016 and launched a massive anti-drug crackdown that has left more than 4,800 suspects, mostly poor people, dead.
Some of the slain mayors were linked to illegal drugs by Duterte and police, but authorities say there is no evidence they were targeted by government forces. Duterte denies condoning extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs but has repeatedly threatened death to drug dealers, officials and police who profit from the drug trade.
Alarmed by the killings of local officials, opposition Sen. Bam Aquino called for a Senate investigation, saying the deaths “have caused grave concern, fear, insecurity, and distress in the general populace.”
An investigation is crucial “to assure the public that the government is capable of maintaining peace and order and protecting the lives of the Filipino people,” Aquino said in a statement.
Buquing, his wife, their driver and a police officer who apparently was given a ride were on their way home to Sudipen when gunmen in a van tried to overtake them and then opened fire near a school in Bangar. The attackers fled, police said.
National police spokesman Chief Superintendent Benigno Durana said Buquing has not been linked by authorities to illegal drugs and investigators are trying to determine the motive and identify of the attackers.
Durana said attacks on politicians are expected to rise ahead of congressional and local elections next year. The national police chief has ordered a crackdown on armed groups to prevent killings caused by political rivalries that have long been a hallmark of Philippine politics.
Human rights groups, however, suspect that some of the mayors may have been gunned down on mere suspicion they were involved in the drug trade.
Early last month, the mayor of Ronda in central Cebu province, Mariano Blanco, was killed by gunmen who barged into his office. In July, Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan city, south of Manila, was fatally shot while singing the national anthem at a flag-raising ceremony.
Duterte had linked both Blanco and Halili to illegal drugs. Both denied involvement.
“Now that high government officials are being killed even in city hall, it’s important for us to know if the government is still capable of protecting ordinary Filipinos,” Aquino said.