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ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) — Police in the southern Philippines said they fatally shot 15 people Sunday, including a city mayor who was among the politicians President Rodrigo Duterte publicly linked to illegal drugs, in the bloodiest assault so far in Duterte's anti-drug crackdown.
Officers were to serve warrants to Ozamiz Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. to search his houses for the suspected presence of unlicensed firearms when gunmen opened fire on the police, sparking clashes that killed the mayor and at least 14 other people, Ozamiz police chief Jovie Espenido said.
"He's a high-value target on illegal drugs," Espenido, who oversaw the simultaneous, post-midnight raids on the mayor's residence and three other houses, said at a news conference.
"We enforce the law to protect the people who want peace in this country," he said. "How can we enforce the law if ... we're scared of the drug lords? That cannot be, they should be afraid of people who do good for all."
At least five people, including Parojinog's daughter, who serves as vice mayor of Ozamiz, a port city, were arrested during the raids. Policemen were approaching the mayor's house when his bodyguards opened fire and hit a police car and wounded a police officer, sparking a firefight amid a power outage, Espenido said.
A grenade held by one of Parojinog's bodyguards exploded during the clash inside his house and it remains unclear if he and his wife were killed by the blast or police gunfire or both, Espenido said, adding that assault rifles, grenades, suspected methamphetamine and cash were seized in the raids.
"The administration vowed to intensify the drug campaign," presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in connection with Sunday's raids in Ozamiz. "The Parojinogs, if you would recall, are included in (Duterte's) list of personalities involved in the illegal drug trade."
Parojinog, who also faced corruption charges, had denied any links to illegal drugs. He was the third mayor to be killed under Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs, which has left more than 3,000 dead in reported gunfights with police and thousands of other unexplained deaths of suspects.
Parojinog's daughter, Vice Mayor Nova Echaves, was arrested and was to be flown to Manila for security reasons, regional police Chief Superintendent Timoteo Pacleb said.
The drug killings have been widely criticized by Western governments and human rights groups that have called for an end to what they suspect were extrajudicial killings related to the anti-drug campaign.
Last year, police officers shot dead Albuera town Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. inside a jail cell in the central province of Leyte, and a week before that, another mayor and his nine bodyguards were gunned down allegedly during a firefight on a road in the southern Philippines.
Espenido was the Albuera police chief when the then-detained Espinosa was killed during a police raid in a jail in a nearby city in Leyte.
Duterte has vowed to defend policemen who would face criminal and human rights charges while cracking down on illegal drugs. He recently ordered a police officer charged in connection with Espinosa's death to be reinstated after briefly being charged and suspended following the jail killing.
All three mayors were among more than 160 officials Duterte named publicly as being linked to illegal drugs in August last year as part of a shame campaign.
Duterte has vowed not to stop until the last drug dealer in the country has been eliminated.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.