Digital Asia News Update
- Jes Aznar/Getty Images
- A Philippine mayor was killed on Wednesday as the number of officials killed under mysterious circumstances continues to rise since Duterte took office.
- 11 mayors and six vice mayors have been killed since June 2016.
- Many have been linked to Duterte’s war on drugs, which may have killed up to 20,000 people.
A Philippine mayor was shot dead on Wednesday as the number of officials killed under mysterious circumstances has risen to 11 since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.
Mariano Blanco, mayor of the town of Ronda in the Cebu province, was shot in his office at around 1:30 a.m. local time after four unidentified men broke in, Rappler reported, citing police officials.
Blanco had reportedly been sleeping in his office as precaution after being publicly named on Duterte’s massive list of officials tied to his crackdown on drugs. Official estimates put the death toll from Duterte’s drug war at 4,729, though rights groups estimate the actual number could be as high as 20,000.
Police said the investigation into Blanco’s death is ongoing and they have not identified any suspects or potential motive.
Blanco’s death marks the 11th mayor killed since Duterte took office in June 2016. Six vice mayors have also been murdered in the same time frame, and many have been linked to Duterte’s brutal drug crackdown.
In February, his vice mayor and nephew Jonah John Ungab was killed by unknown gunmen after attending a court hearing for his client, a suspected drug lord, in Cebu city.
In July, two mayors from different provinces were killed within two days on one another. The murder of Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili by sniper during a flag-raising ceremony on July 2 was captured on camera, and caused mass panic. Halili was widely known for parading drug suspects on “walks of shame,” but was later accused by Duterte of being linked to the drug trade himself.
Police have said that some of the killings may have been politically motivated.
In June, Duterte stoked political tensions and publicly joked about vice mayors overthrowing their bosses.
“The earlier you do away with your mayor, the earlier you become the mayor also,” Duterte said in the province of Bohol, where two mayors have been shot and killed within the past two years.
Rights groups have claimed that Duterte is assassinating his political opponents under the guise of his deadly war on drugs. Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that the uptick in the number of mayors killed has instilled fear in “politicians, especially in the provinces, who are then forced to toe Duterte’s line,” Time magazine reported.
In 2016, a self-described hit man told The New York Times that Duterte presided over the extrajudicial killings of nearly 1,000 criminal suspects and political opponents before becoming president. Duterte reportedly ordered some of the killings by a vigilante group called the Davao Death Quad, and is said to have shot and killed an agent of the National Bureau of Investigation himself.
Duterte has doubled down on his crackdown of dissent, calling for the arrests of political opponents and protesters who appear to question his policies.
Philippine Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a longtime critic of Duterte, is currently holed up inside the Senate building amid calls by Duterte for his arrest.