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Slain mayor on police's 'narco-list'

The slain mayor of the small town of Clarin in Misamis Occidental received threats from organized crime groups prior to his ambush on his way to the prosecutor’s office in Cebu, police said Saturday.

READ: Town mayor killed in ambush

Clarin Mayor David Navarro, previously tagged in President Rodrigo Duterte’s “narco-list” – a reference to those with alleged drug links –  was shot dead Friday while he was in a police vehicle en route to the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office. 

Navarro was set to undergo inquest proceedings for charges of slight physical injuries and acts of lasciviousness, a day after he was arrested for allegedly mauling a massage therapist and soliciting sexual favors.

Four were wounded in the incident: two of Navarro’s security, a Misamis Occidental policeman, and a Cebu City policeman, according to Cebu City Police chief Col. Gemma Vinluan.

City police had arrested Navarro, who was visiting on official business, late Thursday after he allegedly assaulted a masseur, a Cebu police officer who asked not to be named told AFP.

Following the attack, in which one of Navarro’s police escorts was also injured, the gunmen escaped, police said.

Local television footage showed two women named by the station as the politician’s siblings crying and hugging a bloodied body sprawled on the road beside a police van.

The Philippines has a violent and often deadly political culture, but rights monitors have expressed concern that Duterte’s signature drug war—which has led to the killings of thousands of narcotics suspects by police—may be emboldening assailants.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police will continue to strengthen the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, its spokesperson said Friday.

“Our campaign stays. This is our mandate,” Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac told reporters in a press briefing.

He was responding to Vice President Leni Robredo’s remarks that the campaign against illegal drugs had failed because “it targeted the poor rather than big drug networks.”

Banac noted the campaign’s success, citing Social Weather Stations surveys for the past three years showing that a huge majority of Filipinos support the measure.

“We have an 82 percent approval satisfaction rating from the public. That is our basis for saying that we are succeeding in this campaign,” he said.

The PNP, he said, assures the public that it will continue to perform its mandate within the bounds of the law and with the utmost respect for human rights.

The second quarter SWS survey, conducted from June 22 to 26, found 82 percent of adult Filipinos satisfied, 6 percent undecided, and 12 percent dissatisfied with the government’s anti-narcotics campaign.

According to the SWS, a net satisfaction rating of +70 is classified as excellent and it is tied with the 2019 first quarter rating.

The pollster said the net satisfaction on the anti-illegal drugs campaign has always been either very good or excellent in the past 11 survey rounds, with the highest rating recorded in December 2016 at an excellent +77.

Since it was first surveyed in September 2016, the net satisfaction with the campaign has been excellent in Mindanao, except for the very good +66 in June 2017.

It added that 82 percent of Filipinos in all areas of the country cited the less number of drug suspects in the community as the top reason why they were satisfied with the war on drugs.

On the other hand, the undecided claimed that drug trade and drug suspects are still prevalent while the dissatisfied are the same group who recently gave Duterte a lower net satisfaction rating.

The June 2019 survey also found that net satisfaction with the performance of Duterte was an excellent +76.

The SWS conducted the survey using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults nationwide.

Sought for comment, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said, “The war on drugs must continue without let-up but with the rule of law keenly observed.”

On Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Robredo’s remarks did not have a factual basis and that she was merely repeating what her colleagues in the political opposition have said in the past.

In an interview with Reuters, Robredo said the “thousands of people killed were already too many, with no evidence of a decline in drug supply or usage.”

Contrary to Robredo’s claim, Panelo said, the drug war has been successful in convincing more than one million drug personalities to voluntarily surrender since the start of the anti-drug campaign in 2016.

Under the drug war, he said, close to half a million users have gone through recovery, rehabilitation, and wellness programs.

More than 42,000 barangays (villages) have also been cleared of drugs and more than PHP35 billion of drugs, chemicals, and laboratory equipment have been seized and dismantled, he added.

Panelo said more than a hundred police scalawags, and less than 5,000 drug lords and pushers involved in illegal drugs resisted arrest in buy-bust operations and were killed. 

On March 14, ahead of May elections, Navarro’s name had turned up in a list of 44 mostly local officials put out by Duterte, who accused them of being “involved in the deadly game of drug trafficking”.

Duterte had also released a longer list in 2016 of more than 150 judges, mayors and other local officials allegedly linked to drugs. On that list, Mayor Vicente Loot of the central town of Daanbantayan later survived a 2018 ambush, while Mayor Jed Mabilog of the central city of Iloilo went into hiding in 2017.

Two other mayors in the longer list, Rolando Espinosa and Reynaldo Parojinog, were killed by police in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Espinosa was shot dead inside a police jail.

Mayor Antonio Halili, who was assassinated by a sniper as he attended a flag-raising ceremony outside his office in Tanauan city near Manila last year, was linked by Duterte to illegal drugs hours after the attack. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency also said Mariano Blanco, who was killed by unknown gunmen at his office in the southern town of Ronda last year, was also on the government’s narcotics watchlist.

Philippine police say they have killed just over 5,500 drug suspects who fought back against arrest, but rights groups say the true toll is four times higher and may amount to crimes against humanity.

International Criminal Court prosecutors have launched a preliminary probe of the drug war killings, and the UN’s top human rights body has approved a review. 

READ: Slain mayor's biopic gets nationwide release

Topics: David Navarro , Cebu , Ambush , Philippine National Police , War on drugs
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