MANILA (UPDATED) - Malacañang on Monday condemned the killing of Tanauan City, Batangas Mayor Antonio Halili, as it refused to comment on the latter’s inclusion in President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called narco-list.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque vowed justice for Halili, who was known for ordering suspected criminals to take the "walks of shame" around the city.
“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 Tanauan people but for the entire nation. We promise his family and constituents justice.)
Roque praised Halili even as the latter was included 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 denied the allegation.
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 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.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan of the opposition Liberal Party, meanwhile, said Halili’s killing was “clearly another case of EJK or killing resulting from the so-called drug war launched by the government.”
“We reiterate: the everyday killings of our citizens do not and will not solve the drug problem,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
“It is this Philippine image of a ‘wild, wild west’ that has also dampened the desire of both foreign and local investors from investing, thereby slowing down our economic development and preventing much ended employment opportunities and jobs for our citizens.”
Last year, Balete, Batangas Mayor Leovino Hidalgo was shot dead by an unidentified gunman. Hidalgo had been linked to slain "jueteng" operator Vic Siman.
Last May, Mayor Ronald Tirol of Buenavista, Bohol was also shot dead while inside a cockpit arena.
Several politicians have also been killed in police operations, among them Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao, Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, and Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog of Ozamiz City.