MANILA — The Philippine police said on Thursday that a mayor had ordered the killing of a congressman who was gunned down shortly before Christmas, and that one of the men he hired to carry out the assassination had been arrested.
The police said they would seek to arrest Carlwyn Baldo, mayor of the city of Daraga, whom they accused of arranging the Dec. 22 killing of Rodel Batocabe, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives and an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Mr. Batocabe was leaving Congress and had announced his intention to run against Mr. Baldo in Daraga’s mayoral election in May. Orlando Diaz, a police officer who was guarding Mr. Batocabe, was shot and killed along with the congressman at a gift-giving ceremony for senior citizens in Daraga, a city of about 125,000 in Albay Province, southeast of Manila.
“From all indications, as revealed by suspects and witnesses and physical evidence that was gathered by the police, the group that killed Batocabe and Diaz is a private armed group employed by the mayor that is involved in contract killing as a gun-for-hire syndicate,” said the national police chief, Oscar Albayalde.
Mr. Baldo said in a statement Thursday, which he read over the phone to a local radio station, that he was not involved in the killings. “Let us not forget that while I am being used as a convenient scapegoat, those who are truly responsible for the crime remain free and blameless,” he said.
The radio station said Mr. Baldo was speaking from his office in Daraga. Calls to Daraga’s municipal offices were not answered on Thursday afternoon.
Political violence has long plagued the Philippines. Even before Mr. Batocabe’s killing, several officials and candidates for local office in the nationwide elections scheduled for May had been gunned down around the country. But it had been years since a Philippine congressman had been murdered.
Mr. Albayalde said that a “trusted security aide” of Mr. Baldo, a former soldier named Christopher Cabrera, had been arrested on Sunday. He said Mr. Cabrera was a member of a six-man hit squad hired by Mr. Baldo. Mr. Albayalde said the mayor had set up a fund of about $95,000 to pay for the killing.
Mr. Albayalde said complaints had been filed in Albay Province accusing all seven men of murder, and that it was now up to courts there to issue warrants against Mr. Baldo and the five other men still at large.
“This is a breakthrough in the pursuit of justice for the victims and their families,” said Salvador Panelo, Mr. Duterte’s spokesman.
Mr. Albayalde said the plot to kill the congressman was devised as early as August, when Mr. Baldo reportedly gave Mr. Cabrera $4,600 to buy guns and motorcycles. That was around the time that Mr. Batocabe announced his intention to run for mayor of Daraga.
Under interrogation, Mr. Cabrera said he used the initial funds to buy two motorcycles, while another member of the team bought two .45 caliber pistols, Mr. Albayalde said. Both Mr. Cabrera and the second man are former army intelligence operatives, and the man thought to have pulled the trigger is a former Communist guerrilla, he said.
Mr. Albayalde said a person who was involved in the initial planning but later backed out had come forward to corroborate the police’s suspicions. He would not say whether the person was being treated as a witness or a suspect.