A man accused of helping a gunman kill seven people and wound 12 others has been detained as police investigate the motive for the drug-fuelled rampage, officials said yesterday.
Witnesses said the arrested suspect helped reload a semi-automatic pistol as the gunman, later killed by police, went house to house on Friday looking for neighbours to shoot at a slum in Kawit town just south of Manila.
John Paul Lopez was arrested in nearby Imus late on Friday, hours after gunman Rolando Bae was killed in a firefight with police, national police spokesman Generoso Cerbo said.
"We are investigating the level of his involvement, but definitely he faces criminal charges," Chief Superintendent Cerbo said of the alleged accomplice.
Lopez, the caretaker of Bae's house, said he was blameless because the gunman forced him at gunpoint to load the clip of the .45-calibre pistol between the shootings, Cerbo said.
"If that is proven false, he would be charged with many murders," Cerbo added.
The arrested suspect tested positive for methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant, said Kawit police investigator Plaridel Daprosa.
He said authorities were looking into the possibility that the murder spree, which police said was preceded by a four-day drug and alcohol binge, was triggered by problems in Bae's marriage.
"That's a possible reason we're looking into. We know that the couple split a few months back," Daprosa added.
Cerbo said 12 people were being treated for gunshot wounds in hospitals in Manila and Cavite after the rampage.
Police said a pregnant woman and four children were among those shot, and that two of the children had died.
They said Bae, whom police believe to be in his early 40s, had been an elected member of the village council but left the community after being defeated in a 2010 ballot for the post of village chief.
Bae and Lopez began their drink and drugs binge on New Year's Eve, according to Juanito Victor Remulla, governor of Cavite province where Kawit is located.
Derrick Carreon, of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, said drug use may have played a role in the killings, explaining that frequent methamphetamine use can lead to anti-social or even psychotic behaviour.
"They [drug users] may start seeing demons during withdrawal. You take it from there," he said yesterday.
Friday's shooting rampage followed the New Year's Eve deaths of two children in celebratory gunfire in Manila, which triggered condemnation of the Philippines' poorly enforced gun laws.
There were 1.2 million registered firearms in the country last year, with another 600,000 unlicensed weapons in circulation, according to police.
But pro-gun-lobby spokesman Ernesto Tabujara said it was unfair to punish licensed firearms owners such as himself with a gun ban.
Fewer than 1 per cent of gun crimes in the Philippines were committed by licensed gun owners, said Tabujara, secretary-general of Pro-Gun Philippines.
"We feel we have an inadequate number of policemen protecting our citizens. Our 125,000 policemen could not possibly guard and protect 100 million Filipinos," he said.
"In the critical moments before the police arrive [at a crime scene], homeowners have a right to protect themselves and their families."