Philippine police shot and killed a town mayor in his jail cell on Saturday, the second politician to fall victim to President Rodrigo Duterte’s vicious war on the illegal drug trade in recent weeks.
Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., mayor of Albuera, a town in the Leyte province in central Philippines, was among 150 local government officials, police, and judges whom Duterte blacklisted for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking. Duterte ordered those on the list to surrender or be hunted down. Espinosa surrendered in August in a nationally televised event and was released. He was then arrested again last month on drug trafficking charges, and had been held in a provincial jail in Baybay City.
Espinosa and another inmate reportedly fired at officers who raided the jail shortly before dawn on Saturday in search of drugs and firearms, police told news outlets. Officials said they discovered methamphetamine, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia in the cell, the New York Times reported.
But critics of Duterte’s new regime are skeptical of that account of events.
“Offhand, I can smell extrajudicial killing,” former national police chief Sen. Panfilo Lacson told CBS.
Here’s a rundown of what’s happened in the Philippines’s bloody drug war in recent months:
- Samsudin Dimaukom, the mayor of the southern town Saudi Ampatuan, was gunned down late last month. Dimaukom, like Espinosa, was on Duterte’s blacklist.
- Duterte won the 2016 presidential election in May on promises to crack down on shabu, a type of crystal meth which has had many Filipinos in its grip in the last decade. He vowed to kill thousands of criminals and urged citizens to take it upon themselves to kill drug addicts.
- In August, Duterte vowed to uphold his “shoot to kill” order on drug dealers, adding “I don’t care about human rights.” He has also said President Obama can “go to hell” after Washington refused to sell weapons to his government.
- As of last month, the deadly drug war had already claimed an estimated 3,800 lives since Duterte took office on June 30, drawing sharp criticism from international rights groups and the United Nations.
- Just days after he took office, Duterte named five police generals as “protectors of drug syndicates.” All five denied the allegations. “Many have died and many more will die,” Duterte said, according to CNN Philippines. “I’ve been warning everybody. Do not destroy my country because I will kill you.”
- By September, Duterte had compiled a “narco list,” 1,000 names including those of police officers, mayors, governors, other elected officials, and judges.
- A serving senior police officer has claimed that vigilante death squads were operating in the nation’s capital Manila, killing suspected drug users and dealers, the Guardian reported in September. Duterte’s office denied the allegation.