Philippine police commandos have killed six bodyguards who worked for a town mayor who turned himself in over links to the illegal drug trade, as President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war shifted from street peddlers to officials.
National police spokesman Dionardo Carlos told reporters there had been a gunbattle on Wednesday between the police and bodyguards working for mayor Rolando Espinosa after police went to search Espinosa’s home on Leyte island in the central Philippines.
Espinosa, mayor of Albuera town, turned himself into the national police chief on Tuesday after Duterte asked him and his son, Kerwin, to surrender within 24 hours over their involvement in the drug trade, warning they would be killed if they resisted arrest.
Espinosa has publicly denied any part in the drug trade but said his son was peddling ‘shabu’ (methamphetamine), which he gets from a jailed Chinese drug trader.
His son Kerwin is reportedly ‘the number one drug lord’ in the region and is ‘armed and dangerous’ while on the run.
Espinosa admitted that his son has had plastic surgery, like him.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ Dela Rosa said: ‘Your father already surrendered so you should follow your father… Your life is really in danger.’
‘The incident this morning was related to the investigation on alleged drug trade by the mayor and his son,’ Carlos said.
He said six men were killed and six others escaped.
‘We have recovered 13 high-powered firearms and five pistols from the scene,’ he said. Charges would be laid against the mayor for keeping unlicensed guns, Carlos said.
The raid signalled a shift in Duterte’s drug war from running after street-level peddlers and users to powerful regional politicians and foreign drug traffickers.
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Duterte has promised to name dozens of governors, mayors and other politicians he says are involved in the drug trade after identifying three police generals and two former police generals who were protecting drug traffickers.
Police said charges had been filed against another mayor from the southern island of Mindanao after he escaped from a police raid last week when 16 people were arrested 1 million pesos ($21,263) worth of drugs were seized.
Close to 400 people has been killed in police operations against illegal drugs since Duterte was sworn in as president on June 30. Media and rights groups have put the figure almost twice as high at 770, including more than 200 killed by vigilante groups.
The number of drug-related killings has alarmed human rights groups, who have called on the United Nations to condemn the rise in extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. The Philippine Senate is to hold a legislative inquiry.