COTABATO CITY—Four gunmen protecting the mayor of a Maguindanao town listed as a drug suspect were killed in a clash with lawmen trying to serve a search warrant on the official on Thursday, authorities said.
At least 10 soldiers were wounded in the clash, which broke out as a team of policemen and soldiers were entering the town of Ampatuan to search the houses of Mayor Rasul Sangki and his men.
Senior Supt. Jimmy Daza, head of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said the team was in the village of Saniag when they were met with heavy gunfire.
Daza said reports reaching police were not clear if Sangki was with the armed men.
Sangki is a state witness in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre. Last year, President Duterte named him as among mayors and other officials involved in the drug trade.
Sangki vehemently denied involvement in drugs and went to Camp Crame, the Philippine National Police headquarters, to clear his name.
Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, Maguindanao police director, said the operation against Sangki and his men is continuing and backed by two MG-520 attack helicopters. Sporadic gunfire continued until early last night.
Myrna Jo Henry, speaking for the ARMM’s Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team, said the ARMM government has given aid to displaced families from the village of Salman and areas nearby.
“Many of them left without much valuables,” Henry told the Inquirer after distributing food packs to displaced families at the municipal gymnasium of Ampatuan on Thursday.
“Some told us they left behind their work animals such as horses and carabaos as well as their produce,” Henry said.
“They had just harvested corn and palay,” she said. No civilian was hurt in the clash, Henry said.
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the regional government continues to support Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.
Several other Maguindanao officials are also being linked to the drug trade, including Talitay Mayor Montasir Sabal, who is now in hiding.
“We support the President’s campaign even in the judicious use of intelligence funds in the maintenance of law and order,” Hataman said.
ARMM Interior Secretary Noor Hafizullah Abdullah said the region, as part of the war on drugs, also wants to establish drug- and crime-free communities.