The mayor of a town in the province of Zamboanga del Sur in the restive southern Philippines was shot dead in an ambush at Manila’s main airport, police said.
Ukol Talumpa, mayor of Labangan, his wife and at least two others died in the shooting yesterday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City near Manila, police director Chief Superintendent Christopher Laxa said by phone. Five others were injured in the attack, he said.
Talumpa was ambushed at the airport’s arrival area by two men dressed in police uniforms on a motorcycle, police spokesman Senior Superintendent Wilben Mayor said in a separate phone interview. Talumpa had arrived from Zamboanga city on a Cebu Pacific plane, Interaksyon news website reported.
The attack, which was the third reported on Talumpa in as many years, may raise concerns among tourists about safety in a country that is just starting to recover from the effects of Typhoon Haiyan, which in November killed more than 6,000 people and left an $8.2 billion bill for reconstruction. The government is also in the final stages of long negotiations with Muslim rebels in the south for a peace accord.
“President Benigno Aquino needs to step up security measures in metro Manila because violence, regardless of whether it’s politically motivated or not, is a drag on the country’s image,” Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University, said by phone. “Everybody knows that we don’t have the best airport in the world. This egregious incident shows tourists that it’s also not a safe airport.”
Aquino has ordered police to conduct a full investigation and pursue the attackers, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said in a text message. “The government will adopt necessary measures to ensure the citizens’ safety, especially during this holiday season,” Coloma said.
The mayor survived an earlier ambush in November 2010, when he was attacked by two gunmen in Manila, according to the Philippine Star, which said police at the time cited politics, business rivalry and personal conflict as potential motives. In September last year, he and his wife were set upon by armed men while traveling to Pagadian City, the capital of Zamboanga del Sur, according to a report from the military.
Talumpa was the town’s vice mayor when the earlier attacks happened, and was elected mayor this year under the opposition Nationalist People’s Coalition. Labangan is a town of nearly 40,000 people, located about 270 kilometers (168 miles) from Zamboanga city, the commercial center of the Zamboanga peninsula.
Three weeks of fighting in Zamboanga city between government forces and a Muslim separatist group in September killed at least 203 people and delayed peace talks with a separate group of rebels. Earlier in December, the government said it expects to sign a final accord with Muslim rebels next month, bringing Aquino closer to his pledge of ending four decades of conflict on resource-rich Mindanao island.
The insurgency in Mindanao has killed as many as 200,000 people and stifled development in the area. Ending one of Southeast Asia’s most entrenched conflicts could help bring investors to Mindanao and unlock mineral deposits worth an estimated $312 billion.
Mindanao accounted for 14.4 percent of Philippine output in 2012, according to government data. It’s also home to many of the country’s Muslim population, which accounts for about 5 percent of the Philippines’ more than 100 million people, according to estimates by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Ninoy Aquino International Airport had 32.1 million passengers in 2012, 8 percent more than the year earlier, according to its website. Police set up checkpoints within a 1.5-kilometer radius of Terminal 3, police Chief Superintendent Jose Erwin Villacorte told DZMM radio.