Manila: A mayor in southern Philippines’ Compostela Valley was killed in an ambush days after he was accused by communist rebels of involvement in illegal logging activities.
Mayor Rey Navarro of Laak town died around 8.30am on Wednesday, reports said. The 62-year-old town chief executive was travelling in a convoy of two vehicles on the way to the municipal hall when three men on two motorcycles waylaid his vehicle.
Col Lyndon Panesa, spokesperson of the armed forces’ Eastern Command, which has jurisdiction in the Davao peninsula and Compostella Valley, said Navarro’s convoy was passing through the town of Asuncion in Davao del Norte when the ambush took place.
Navarro’s bodyguard and driver were wounded in the attack. His other bodyguards who were in a separate vehicle pursued the attackers.
Panesa said two of the assailants were killed in the ensuing shoot-out with the mayor’s security personnel while one was able to escape. He added that authorities are now pursuing the suspects and that a military and police dragnet had been ordered to prevent their escape.
Navarro was taken to the Tagum Doctors’ Hospital where he died around 10.30am.
Panesa said there were strong suspicions that communist rebels were behind Navarro’s ambush.
Prior to the attack on the mayor, the communist New People Army (NPA) last May 23 had accused the official of involvement in illegal logging activities in Laak.
Rebels said they had video footage showing logging activities taking place in the village of Ampawid and Andap, both of which are in Navarro’s jurisdiction.
“Navarro attempted to absolve himself by saying that Laak was merely a transit point of trucks coming from the boundary of Agusan del Sur, the site of logging operations,” the rebels said on their website philippinerevolution.net.
President Benigno Aquino III in 2010 ordered a total ban on logging in the country in an effort to save the country’s remaining forest cover and to allow the trees to regenerate.
Most of the natural calamities that the country had recently suffered have been blamed on the country’s depleted forest cover. Despite the presidential order banning logging, illegal loggers have been able to operate with impunity due to corrupt local officials.
“Navarro even ordered village officials in Datu Davao (village) to fix interior roads to facilitate logging activities which he sponsored, according to the officials themselves who reported to the NPA Navarro’s direct participation in the logging activities,” the rebels said.
“For as long as local reactionaries like Navarro continue to make big business out of the remaining forest resources, the NPA will impose measures to protect the environment and peasants,” the NPA said.