ALTHOUGH three of them have been killed in reported gunbattles with the police since 2016, the killing of 13 other mayors and vice-mayors in the country since the start of the Duterte administration has baffled Filipinos with the identities of the killers and their masterminds still a puzzle to many.
Thus, it is not far-fetched that the murder of the 13 could either be politically-motivated—remember that many of these elected officials are sure of running for reelection in the coming 2019 mid-term polls, or they could have been killed due to business rivalries, double-cross, love triangle, vendetta attacks or even by people wanting to ride on the government’s crackdown against illegal drugs.
Killing a potential winner in every local election in this country is not new and I can’t count on my fingers the number of stories I have written about mayors who have been assassinated by hired guns working for their rivals in the past.
As I was writing this piece, police are still working to piece out the details surrounding the killing of Sudipen, La Union Mayor Alexander Boquing, his policeman-bodyguard and driver in Bangar municipality around 6:45 p.m. Monday.
It appeared to be a well-planned attack with the killers firing at the victims’ pick-up. Mayor Buqing’s wife, Vice-Mayor Wendy Joy was also wounded in the attack but after getting out of the hospital has already taken the place of her murdered husband. Following the incident, PNP chief, Gen. Oscar Albayalde ordered a full-blast investigation into the incident and ordered the local police to launch an all-out manhunt against the assassins.
What is clear here is that police will have to work much harder to find out the motive and identities of the killers and possibly, the ‘brains’ behind the incident. I got a confirmation from many senior PNP officials that Mayor Boquing is not included in the so-called ‘narco-list’ of President Duterte and thus, the drug angle has already been ruled out. What is emerging at the moment is that it could be a politically-motivated killing.
I learned that Boquing’s family has a strong control of the municipality, the main reason why he is the mayor and his wife is the vice-mayor. The two are reportedly being wooed by some local politicians to side with them since their clout and influence will have a bearing on the forthcoming mid-term elections in 2019. What is also clear here is that a local policeman—not a member of the Police Security and Protection Group— has been authorized to provide security to the mayor but he failed to do his job and also died in the attack.
Since 2016, it was reported that 16 mayors have already been killed: three of them, Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao who was killed in a reported clash with security troops; Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte who was gunned down in a reported firefight with the police inside a provincial jail; and Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Jr. of Ozamiz City who died along with 13 others in a controversial police raid.
The rest were killed in ambuscades: Mohammad Limbona of Pantar, Lanao del Norte; Arsenio Agustin of Marcos, Ilocos Norte; Leovino Hidalgo of Balete, Batangas; Ronald Lowell Tirol of Buenavista, Bohol; Ferdinand Bote of General Tinio, Nueva Ecija; Mariano Blanco of Ronda, Cebu; Boquing; and Gisela Bendong-Boniel of Bien Unido, Bohol.
The vice-mayors who were killed are Aaron Sampaga of Pamplona, Cagayan; Anwar Sindatuk of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao; Jackson Dy of Roxas, Oriental Mindoro; Jonah John Ungab of Ronda, Cebu, Alexander Lubigan of Trece Martires City in Cavite; and Al-Rashid Mohammad Ali of Sapa-Sapa, Tawi-Tawi.
Some of the victims were known for their drug links and in the case of Vice-Mayor Ungab, it turned out that he is a lawyer known for defending suspected drug lords in the country. If they were still alive, I’m quite sure that the victims would try to seek reelection to redeem themselves.
Really, the fate of local politicians included in President Duterte’s ‘narco-list’ lies on the hands of the electorate which has proven that it is long tired of rogue politicians. As Gen. Albayalde and I had discussed last Monday, some mayors in the ‘narco-list’ are really bent on seeking reelection in 2019 and it is up for the voters to decide on their political fate since no one, not even the police can really stop them from filing their candidacy a few weeks from now.
“There is no law barring these mayors from running for office unless they are convicted by court. Hence, it is up for the voters to be discerning enough, to make their own decision on whether to vote for these so-called ‘narco-politicians’ or not,” the PNP chief told me.
He made the statement as I told him that this early, some former and incumbent mayors in the President’s ‘narco-list’ have aired their intention to seek the mayoralty post anew in their respective cities and municipalities and have even requested the PNP to have them ‘delisted’ from the government’s narco-list.
One of them, former Cebu City Mayor Michael ‘Mike’ Rama has already asked the assistance of the Police Regional Office regarding the matter although the local police said it has to get clearance from the PNP national headquarters.
I learned that a PNP Command Memorandum Circular issued on August 16, 2017 created the PNP Adjudication Board to handle cases of police officers and men included in the ‘narco-list’ and has no authority to recommend actions regarding elected government officials and other civilians included in the list.
The most the PNP can do is to conduct a thorough validation of all old and new information regarding those in the narco-list and submit them to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for final recommendation as what the PRO7 headed by my friend Chief Superintendent Dodong Sinas of PMA Class 1987 is doing in the case of Rama.
Rama, listed in President Duterte’s ‘narco-list’ as a ‘drug user and protector’ last Friday underwent a drug test by the Regional Crime Laboratory Office 7 and was found to be negative for any substance. The drug test was conducted shortly after the ex-mayor met with Sinas.