MANILA (UPDATED) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday slammed Tanauan City, Batangas Mayor Antonio Halili, saying the latter pretended to be an anti-illegal drug crusader to cover up his supposed involvement in the narcotics trade.
Duterte said Halili’s shame campaign against suspected criminals in the city was just a front for his illegal activities.
Duterte likened Halili to slain mayors Reynaldo Parojinog of Ozamiz City and Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, saying they used their powers as local chief executives to back the narcotics trade.
“Kanina si Halili, Batangas… Kunwari lang iyan, kuwari itong mga adik pina-prosisyon, hinahampas… siya yun. Kanina patay. Ewan kung sino nagpa-patay pero sinabihan ko na kayo na 'wag, wag talaga,” Duterte said in Bisaya.
(A while ago, Halili, in Batangas… He was faking, he was pretending by parading the drug addicts and beating them up. I don’t know who had him killed, but I told you not be involved in illegal drugs.)
The President would later tone down his statement on Halili, stressing that he only “suspects” that the mayor was killed due to illegal drugs.
Halili was on the list of high-value drug targets of the police and subjected to "Oplan Tokhang." In 2017, he lost supervision over the police, along with other officials accused of dabbling in the narcotics trade.
Halili had denied the allegation.
Duterte's remarks came after Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque vowed justice for Halili.
“Nakilala natin si Mayor Halili. Ito ay napakatibay na kasangga ng presidente sa gyera laban sa droga. Napakahusay na alkalde. Sa kanyang pamumuno po naging isa sa pinakamaunlad na bayan ang Tanauan, Batangas,” Roque said in a phone interview.
(We knew Mayor Halili. He was a strong supporter of the President’s war on drugs. He was a competent mayor. Because of his leadership, Tanauan became one the most progressive cities in Batangas.)
“Kawalan ito hindi lang sa mga taga-Tanauan kundi sa mga sambayanang Pilipino. Nangangako tayo sa pamilya at mga constituents na bibigyan natin sila ng katarungan.”
(His death is a loss not only for the Tanauan people but for the entire nation. We promise his family and constituents justice.)
In a press briefing, Roque said it would be hard to establish the motive behind Halili’s killing since he supported the government’s war on drugs and was also tagged as having links to the narcotics trade.
Halili was shot dead during Monday’s flag ceremony at the Tanauan City Hall. The singing of the national anthem at the city hall was almost over when a gunshot was heard, causing panic, a video from the local information office showed.
Police said an unidentified gunman shot Halili in the chest. The mayor was declared dead on arrival at the CP Reyes Medical Center, according to Calabarzon police director Chief Supt. Edward Carranza.
The gunman may have been positioned in bushes 150 meters away from the city hall, said Carranza.
New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said while it did not agree with Halili’s method of dealing with illegal drugs and crime in his city, his murder is condemnable.
“He may have deprived many Tanauan residents of due process but that doesn’t mean he should be deprived of it too,” HRW said in a statement.
“We reiterate our call for an end to the culture of impunity in the Philippines where thousands have been killed in extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects, activists, members of indigenous tribes, journalists, priests, and politicians like Mayor Halili. The only way that can happen is if perpetrators — including Mayor Halili’s killers — are investigated, arrested, charged and tried in a court of law.”