Manila — A mayor in the Philippines known for parading drug suspects through his town was fatally shot during a flag-raising ceremony Monday morning, police said.
Antonio Halili, the mayor of Tanauan City, about 40 miles south of Manila, was shot in the chest by a gunman and died immediately, the police said. The gunman remained at large.
“Mayor Halili is a staunch ally of the president in the war on drugs,” Harry Roque, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said in a brief statement. “He was a great mayor. This is such a loss.”
Halili was the fourth mayor killed during Duterte’s war on drugs, which has drawn fierce condemnation from rights groups for extrajudicial killings of thousands of drug suspects.
But the other three mayors who were killed were on the president’s list of 150 Philippine officials — including mayors, judges and police officers — who were accused of being involved in drugs. They were killed over the past two years in alleged shootouts with the police. One of them was killed while in jail, after he reportedly pulled a gun on officers conducting a search of his cell.
Halili gained notoriety when he seized on Duterte’s tough anti-drug rhetoric, ordering his police force to round up drug suspects and parade them around Tanauan City in a “walk of shame” campaign in which they wore placards saying they were drug offenders.
The practice alarmed local rights groups, who accused the mayor of employing a cheap political gimmick instead of prosecuting the accused through the legal system.
Halili also led the Mayor’s Anti-Crime Group, a civilian vigilante organisation that helped lead the fight against drug trafficking.
Investigators were trying to determine who was behind the attack.
“It appears that the gunshot was from a sniper,” said Chief Edward Carranza, the regional police superintendent. He added that the gunman could have been hiding in a secured area near City Hall while carrying out the shooting.
“Crime scene investigators are securing the position that the gunman may have used,” he said.
In an interview with Reuters in 2016, the mayor said that in cracking down on the nation’s drug trade, the Philippine police were going after the “small fry to frighten the people” instead of going after big drug traffickers.
While the government initially welcomed Halili’s anti-drug effort, he was later singled out by the national police on its list of “high value targets” as an alleged protector of drug syndicates. He had denied the allegations, and in 2016 sought to clear his name with the police.
“Everybody has a reason to be afraid because it’s now the police who are in control,” he said in the 2016 interview. “If you are the mayor, and if somehow your views differ from the police, they will create a story, say you are into drugs and go after you and kill you. What can you do?”
Panfilo Lacson, a senator who was previously the country’s police chief, said the government should impose stricter firearms control measures to stem the rising tide of killings.
“The killings of priests, prosecutors, former and incumbent officials in broad daylight and in full view of the public can only suggest brazenness,” he warned.
Recently, however, Duterte drawn fierce criticism from civil liberty advocates by proposing that all village officials be armed with handguns and enlisted in his war on drugs.
New York Times