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Philippine mayor accused of drug links by Duterte is killed by police

MANILA — After President Rodrigo Duterte publicly named him as a drug suspect last summer, the mayor of a small Philippine town said he was not worried.

“If you are not guilty, why should you be afraid?” the mayor, Samsudin Dimaukom, told The New York Times in August.

On Friday, he and nine other men were shot dead at a highway police checkpoint, in what police described as an antidrug operation.

Dimaukom and his companions are among about 2,000 people who have been killed in Duterte’s campaign against drugs since he took office on June 30.

The bloody campaign has been criticized by foreign governments, including the United States, as well as by the United Nations and international human rights groups. But it has been very popular in the Philippines, where residents say the killing of crime suspects has made the streets safer.

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According to police, Dimaukom, the mayor of Datu Saudi-Ampatuan, a town of about 20,000 on the restive southern island of Mindanao, was killed after his guards opened fire on officers.

Chief Inspector Elias Colonia, a spokesman for the local police, said authorities had information that Dimaukom and his group were transporting a shipment of shabu, a cheap form of methamphetamine widely sold in the Philippines.

According to police, a checkpoint was set up along his expected route in the town of Makilala, about 70 miles east of Datu Saudi-Ampatuan by road. The mayor and his party approached around 4 a.m., Colonia said.

“The suspects were heavily armed and fired upon the law enforcers, which prompted them to fire back,” according to a police report. “As a result, 10 malefactors were wounded and brought to a hospital for treatment but were declared dead upon arrival.”

Photographs taken at the scene showed various weapons and what appeared to be sachets of shabu near an SUV with bullet holes in the front windshield.

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No police officers were harmed, police said.

Most of those killed in the antidrug campaign have been poor and on the margins of society. Suspected of using or selling methamphetamine, they were shot by police, ostensibly after they resisted arrest.

But in August, Duterte identified several officials he said were involved in the illegal drug trade, including judges, police officers, military officials, mayors, and members of Congress, and threatened to go after them. That group included Dimaukom.

On Thursday, Duterte said his campaign had entered a new phase and would now target such officials.

Contending that “narcopolitics” had taken hold in the country, he said that he had compiled the names of 5,000 village leaders and 6,000 police officers involved in the narcotics business.

“This list of names, this is it,” he said, waving a thick sheaf of papers. “This is the drug industry in the Philippines.”

In what appeared to be a threat to kill everyone on his list, he added, “The human rights people will commit suicide, if I finish these all.”

Duterte has not made the full list public, and critics have assailed his approach as McCarthyism, raising questions about how the names were compiled and why charges were not filed instead.

It was not clear whether the police checkpoint that ensnared Dimaukom was part of the campaign’s new phase.

In August, when Dimaukom heard his name announced on television as a drug suspect, he said he was shocked.

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“We were really surprised when the president came out to announce it,” he told the Times by e-mail. “Not once were we involved in drugs. In fact, we were fighting drugs. I support the president’s drug war.”

He said he had been wrongly placed on the list of drug suspects because of false accusations spread by his political rivals. He said he was not afraid of an investigation. “First, our defense is the truth,” he said. “If you are not guilty, why should you be afraid?”

Dimaukom reported to the local police, then in an abundance of caution, he flew to Manila to meet with top police officials and said he would cooperate with any investigation.