SLAIN. Sto. Niño, South Cotabato Mayor Pablo Matinong Jr. in an undated photo. The 55-year-old Matinong was shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen while inspecting local government projects in Purok Libertad, Barangay Poblacion on Friday morning (July 10, 2020). (Photo grab from the mayor’s Facebook page)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – A town mayor in South Cotabato province, who was included on President Rodrigo Duterte’s “narco-list”, was shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen while inspecting local government projects on Friday morning.

Sto. Niño town Mayor Pablo Matinong Jr., 55, was walking alone at a portion of Purok Libertad in Barangay Poblacion at about 7:50 a.m. when he was fired at by two unidentified persons, South Cotabato police director, Col. Jemuel Siason, said.

Citing accounts from witnesses, Siason said the gunmen, who were riding a black/red Honda XRM motorcycle, casually approached the mayor and shot him several times.

He said Matinong, who was on his second straight term as mayor, reportedly died on the spot after he was shot at least seven times on the head and body using a caliber .45 handgun.

The victim was later declared dead by doctors at the Dr. Ervin B. Luntao Family Clinic and Hospital, where he was subjected to autopsy and post-mortem examination.

Siason said various police units are pursuing the assailants, who were last seen heading towards Barangay Lapuz in Norala town.

He said investigators were gathering evidence and statements from witnesses to establish the possible motive and identities of the gunmen.

“We’re looking into a number of angles right now, including business and work-related conflict and personal grudge,” Siason told reporters, adding that the slain mayor recently confided to local police personnel that he had some disagreement with another person over a business matter.

As to Matinong’s inclusion in the “narco-list” in 2017, he said the mayor had requested a re-evaluation from an inter-agency body handling the matter and the status remains pending.

Matinong, who ran under the province’s Nationalist People’s Coalition-PDP-Laban slate in the May 2019 elections, had denied his involvement in illegal drug activities and repeatedly sought to clear his name with concerned agencies.

He was among the 18 mayors in the country who were stripped by the National Police Commission of supervisory powers over the police for supposedly failing to address the illegal drug problem in their areas.

Joffrey Frinal, the Sto. Niño municipal administrator, confirmed in a radio interview that the mayor had long been receiving death threats.

Matinong, however, just ignored them, noting that he has no enemies and had not abused anyone, Frinal said.

“That’s the reason why he usually roams around the town to inspect projects without any accompanying bodyguard or police escort,” he said.

Vice Governor Vicente de Jesus, a party-mate and close ally of Matinong, condemned the incident and called for the immediate arrest of the mayor’s assailants.

“This is a huge loss for the municipality. We lost a working mayor,” de Jesus said.

South Cotabato 2nd District Rep. Ferdinand Hernandez, who was among the officials who rushed to Sto. Niño town after the incident urged the National Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to “look into this senseless killing.”

“Justice has to be served to the family and they, as well as the people of Sto. Niño, deserve an answer over this incident,” Hernandez said.

He credited the municipality’s “fast-paced development and progress” these past several years to the slain mayor’s leadership.

Matinong had worked to get clearance from accusations regarding his supposed involvement in illegal drug activities.

“He was sincere and dedicated to performing his work as mayor and the people can attest to that,” Hernandez added. (PNA)