Authorities are hunting down politicians allegedly involved in illegal drugs on the list of President Rodrigo Duterte, as well as drug lords reportedly seeking refuge with an armed group in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Chief Supt. Agripino Javier, ARMM acting police regional director, told The Manila Times on Thursday by phone that law enforcers are doubling their efforts in running after the so-called narco-politicians whom they earlier asked to surrender, or be shot along with the suspected drug lords if they resist.
The names of the “narco-mayors” have not been revealed to the public yet but officials said the suspects have been told to voluntarily surrender to defend themselves from the accusations.
Some of them from the ARMM, according to the officials, just expressed willingness to come out in public, while some have surfaced to clear their names.
ARMM is composed of five provinces—Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi—and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.
In Lanao del Sur, Mohammad Ali Abinal, a former mayor of Marantao town, reportedly surrendered to police provincial director Senior Supt. Rustom Duran.
The Manila Times tried several times to confirm the report from the police official, but failed.
Abinal, who lost in the race for vice governor in the May elections, reportedly denied allegations linking him to drug syndicates.
Late last month, the “Drug Queen of the South” and her husband, a military official identified as Suharto Macabuat ,were arrested in Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)-Northern Mindanao identified the suspect as Johaira Abinal, alias “Mayora Marimar,” who is on Duterte’s list.
In Maguindanao, Montasir Sabal, the incumbent town mayor of Talitay, recently surfaced after he was publicly named by the police in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, as the main target in their operation.
The police said Sabal and his trusted aide were the primary targets but the mayor eluded operatives who came to serve a search warrant in his house in Barangay Kalawag 1, Isulan, last Saturday.
Sabal later denied he escaped.
He admitted, though, that he was previously engaged in the illegal drug trade while a police officer in 2007 before he entered politics.
Also, Maguindanao police director Senior Supt. Nickson Muksan told The Manila Times on Wednesday that he brought former mayor Rasul Sangki of Ampatuan town to ARMM regional police director Javier after his name appeared on social media sites as among politicians allegedly involved in drugs.
Meanwhile, Javier confirmed the claim of the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, that many drug lords who had evaded arrests in various operations in Luzon, the Visayas and other parts of Mindanao are hiding in the vicinity of ARMM under the protection of the unidentified armed group.
“That’s true, if the chief of the PNP said so,” he said, without elaborating.
According to de la Rosa, he had received intelligence information that the drug lords, who are still at large, had allegedly fled to Marawi City in Lanao del Sur and sought protection from the armed group.
“They may be seeking safe haven, safe refuge in the area,” he said.
“If they are being coddled by the armed group, then wait, we will request the Philippine Air Force to bomb your (armed group) location,” de la Rosa added.
He, however, did not identify the suspects or their coddlers.
Aside from kidnap-for-ransom and private armed groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front and the Islamic State (IS)-affiliated IS Ranao or Maute Group are among those operating in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur province.
Last month, the MILF, however, inked an agreement with the Department of the Interior and Local Government in support of President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs.