A po­lice raid or a mas­sacre?

Philip­pine leader stands be­hind of­fi­cers who killed a mayor, 15 oth­ers

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Kaiman

OZA­MIZ, Philip­pines — Mayor Rey­naldo Paro­jinog ’s sup­port­ers have cleaned up most of the blood, but its smell still lingers, a pun­gent, metal­lic odor. His walls and ceiling are rid­dled with shrap­nel. A framed photo of his chil­dren hangs on the stair­way, shat­tered and askew.

It hap­pened just af­ter 2 a.m. July 30 as a rare power black­out cloaked the city in dark­ness.

Po­lice raided Paro­jinog’s house in cen­tral Oza­miz, a city of 140,000 peo­ple on the Philip­pine is­land Min­danao. For at least 30 min­utes, the neigh­bor­hood — a war­ren of low-slung homes be­neath a tan­gle of tele­phone wires — con­vulsed with gun­shots and ex­plo­sions. By sun­rise,

as the chaos sub­sided, 15 peo­ple were dead, in­clud­ing Paro­jinog, 60; his wife, Su­san, 52; his brother; his sis­ter; and sev­eral body­guards. Paro­jinog ’s nephew died two days later, bring­ing the toll to 16.

The po­lice claim they were serv­ing a search war­rant for drugs and weapons. Paro­jinog’s body­guards at­tacked, and they re­turned fire.

The Paro­jinogs claim the po­lice per­pe­trated a mas­sacre.

“Ev­ery­body’s in shock,” said a close rel­a­tive who, like many Paro­jinog sup­port­ers in­ter­viewed for this story, re­fused to give her name, cit­ing fears that po­lice would kill them. “All the peo­ple here in Oza­miz, they feel sad for him. All of them.”

The in­ci­dent rep­re­sents a new stage of Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s war on drugs, a bru­tal, of­ten ex­trale­gal cam­paign that has left thou­sands dead. So far, most vic­tims have been im­pov­er­ished ad­dicts and low-level run­ners who turned to drugs — pri­mar­ily shabu, an in­ex­pen­sive metham­phetamine — to es­cape the grind­ing drudgery of ur­ban life.

In March, Na­tional Po­lice Chief Ron­ald dela Rosa an­nounced a new phase of the cam­paign. Po­lice would now tar­get the trade’s en­ablers — “big-time drug per­son­al­i­ties and groups.” Paro­jinog was on the list.

“The Oza­miz in­ci­dent is a grim warn­ing that those who per­sist in the il­le­gal drug trade will only reap what they have sowed,” Dela Rosa told re­porters.

On Aug. 2, Duterte in Manila stood by the po­lice who con­ducted the raid. “I will an­swer for it,” he said. “I will say I or­dered it.”

Duterte, af­ter a meet­ing Mon­day with Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son at a re­gional con­fer­ence in Manila, an­grily brushed off re­porters’ ques­tions about his hu­man rights record.

“Hu­man rights … ,” Duterte said, us­ing an ex­ple­tive.

“Po­lice­men and sol­diers have died on me. The war now in Marawi, what caused it but drugs?” he said, ref­er­enc­ing an armed con­flict in the coun­try’s south that has killed nearly 700 peo­ple. “So hu­man rights, don’t go there.”

Paro­jinog is not the first mayor to fall vic­tim to the cam­paign. In Au­gust 2016, Duterte pub­licly linked more than 150 of­fi­cials and po­lice­men to il­le­gal drugs. In Oc­to­ber, po­lice shot and killed Sam­sudin Di­maukom, a small-town mayor in the south, at a check­point. In Novem­ber, an­other small-town mayor, Rolando Espinosa of Al­buera, Leyte prov­ince, was shot dead in a jail cell. Both were on Duterte’s list.

But the killings July 30 — per­haps the blood­i­est of the cam­paign — have gripped the na­tion, ril­ing sen­a­tors and at­tract­ing wall-to-wall cov­er­age in the lo­cal news me­dia.

“This is clearly an in­di­ca­tion that the war against il­le­gal drugs is go­ing to con­tinue in earnest,” said Richard Javad Hey­dar­ian, au­thor of the forth­com­ing “Duterte’s Rise.” “I wouldn’t be sur­prised if the in­ci­dent in Oza­miz is all about the na­tional po­lice say­ing, ‘Now we’re mov­ing up the sup­ply chain and tar­get­ing the big boys.’ ”

At least half a dozen sen­a­tors have pub­licly ques­tioned the in­ci­dent. Why did po­lice serve a search war­rant at 2 a.m.? If the mayor’s se­cu­rity de­tail fought back, why were no po­lice se­ri­ously in­jured? Did 15 peo­ple re­ally need to die?

Sen. Pan­filo Lac­son warned that the deaths “cre­ate the im­pres­sion that search war­rants are merely be­ing used by the [Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice] to fa­cil­i­tate ex­tra­ju­di­cial killing.” Sen. Leila de Lima, a prom­i­nent op­po­si­tion fig­ure, called the in­ci­dent a “plain and sim­ple ex­ter­mi­na­tion.” At least two sen­a­tors have called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Jovie Espenido, Oza­miz’s po­lice chief, over­saw the po­lice depart­ment in Al­buera when that city’s mayor was killed in Novem­ber. He was trans­ferred to Oza­miz the fol­low­ing month.

“There were re­ports that Mayor Paro­jinog was in­volved in not only drugs, but also had been pros­e­cuted by the gov­ern­ment for in­volve­ment in rob­bery,” he said in an in­ter­view. “It’s pub­lic knowl­edge in the city that they’re armed.”

Espenido said po­lice ar­rived at Paro­jinog’s house af­ter 2 a.m. and quickly en­coun­tered gun­fire. Two rounds hit a po­lice ve­hi­cle, and one grazed an of­fi­cer’s head. Of­fi­cers then heard an ex­plo­sion in the house; when they en­tered, they found one of Paro­jinog’s se­cu­rity guards hold­ing the pin of a grenade, his legs blown off at the knees.

Espenido shared pho­to­graphs of con­tra­band his force had os­ten­si­bly con­fis­cated dur­ing the raid: so many hand­guns, shot­guns and assault ri­fles, they couldn’t fit on one ta­ble.

Po­lice also ar­rested Paro­jinog’s daugh­ter, Vice Mayor Nova Princess Paro­jinog, and his son, Rey­naldo “Dodo” Paro­jinog Jr.

“We have ap­pre­hended here 140 or 150 peo­ple [in Oza­miz] for in­volve­ment in il­le­gal drugs,” Espenido said. “And we’ve tracked them to the vice mayor.”

Last week, Paro­jinog’s friends, fam­ily and sup­port­ers gath­ered at his wake at a basketball court near his home. Five open cas­kets, each con­tain­ing a heav­ily made-up Paro­jinog fam­ily mem­ber, were ringed with dozens of flo­ral wreaths.

There, two rel­a­tives de­scribed a very dif­fer­ent scene. They were far from the house when the raid oc­curred, held back by a po­lice cor­don. But they said a wit­ness — Paro­jinog’s brother’s driver — sur­vived, and they re­counted his story.

Po­lice roused the Paro­jinogs, then cor­ralled them in the liv­ing room and made them lie on their stom­achs, ac­cord­ing to the driver. They walked out and threw a grenade into the room. The blast killed Paro­jinog’s sis­ter Mona, 52, and one other per­son im­me­di­ately. Then po­lice re­turned and shot three sur­vivors: Paro­jinog, his wife and his brother.

The driver smeared the mayor’s blood on his face and body so po­lice would think he was dead, then crawled from the house once they’d left. The rel­a­tives would not give the driver’s name and said he was in hid­ing.

“Now the fam­ily seeks jus­tice, es­pe­cially for the [mayor’s] sis­ter and the brother. They were in­no­cent and not on the list,” said the other fam­ily mem­ber. “Why did law en­force­ment kill them all and not in­ves­ti­gate them? We’re ask­ing why. It’s a big ques­tion mark.”

Paro­jinog’s em­ploy­ees ac­cused the po­lice of a coverup. “He had a lot of cam­eras — six of them,” one said. “Be­cause he knew that some­thing bad would hap­pen to him.” Po­lice con­fis­cated all of them in the raid. When asked why Paro­jinog was afraid, the em­ployee said, “be­cause he was a politi­cian.”

The Paro­jinogs have cast a shadow over the re­gion since the 1980s, when the Philip­pine mil­i­tary helped Rey­naldo’s fa­ther, Oc­tavio Paro­jinog, or­ga­nize a vig­i­lante group to com­bat the prov­ince’s com­mu­nist guer­ril­las. The group, Ku­ra­tong Bale­leng, evolved into a crim­i­nal syn­di­cate.

“These peo­ple took ad­van­tage of the fact that they had weapons, and were backed by the mil­i­tary, to en­gage in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties,” said Roland Sim­bu­lan, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of the Philip­pines and au­thor of “Mod­ern War­lordism in the Philip­pines.” They sold drugs, kid­napped peo­ple for ran­som and robbed banks, Sim­bu­lan said. They also shared the spoils with their com­mu­nity.

“That’s why, of course, in that prov­ince and in the city, you might even say that they’re very pop­u­lar,” he said. “What­ever they gained ma­te­ri­ally, they shared, like Robin Hood.”

Rey­naldo was elected mayor for five con­sec­u­tive terms since 2001, and three of his brothers held re­gional po­si­tions of power. His sup­port­ers ex­tolled his kind­ness. “I’d go ask about prob­lems, fi­nan­cial prob­lems,” the for­mer em­ployee said. “He’d give us money or medicine.”

“The whole city loved the mayor very much,” an­other for­mer em­ployee said. “He was very kind. Peo­ple are say­ing that be­cause of what hap­pened, there’s no one we can ask for help.”

He stared at the crater in Paro­jinog’s floor. “We don’t have a good mayor any­more,” he said.

Jonathan Kaiman Los An­ge­les Times

THE PARO­JINOGS’ wake. Mayor Rey­naldo Paro­jinog’s fam­ily says the po­lice ex­e­cuted him, his wife, brother, sis­ter and oth­ers with a grenade and guns.

Oza­miz Po­lice Depart­ment

PO­LICE SAY they con­fis­cated so many guns and assault ri­fles in the Paro­jinog in­ci­dent that the weapons wouldn’t fit on one ta­ble.

Jonathan Kaiman Los An­ge­les Times

OZA­MIZ PO­LICE Chief Jovie Espenido says there were re­ports that Mayor Rey­naldo Paro­jinog was in­volved in drugs and that he and his as­so­ciates were armed.

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