MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senators condemned the killing of Tanauan City, Batangas Mayor Antonio Halili, who was shot dead Monday morning, July 2, and called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to take action.
Minority senator Francis Pangilinan said Halili's death is another case of extrajudicial killing in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war.
He also said that these deaths might be "revenge killings," as families of victims in the anti-drug campaign know who killed their relatives. He said a similar thing happened to Thailand in its fight against illegal drugs in the early 2000s.
"This is 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.... It is the government's duty to prevent and solve criminality and the breakdown in the rule of law," Pangilinan said in a statement.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, whose wife is incumbent Batangas 6th District representative and former Batangas governor Vilma Santos Recto, also called for an end to the "culture of violence."
"The province is littered with bodies of victims of political assassinations and unsolved murders, and each unsolved killing emboldens the next, creating a spiral of violence, which authorities cannot seem to stop," said Recto.
He described Halili as a "good friend" and "a colorful man who had done many great things for his people" despite "a governance style that was unconventional in some aspects."
Pangilinan and Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito also said the killings negatively affect the country's economic development.
"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 needed employment opportunities and jobs for our citizens," Pangilinan said.
"Violent assassinations are black eyes to this goal of achieving peace for economic development," Ejercito said.
Opposition senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV also slammed the "culture of impunity" under the Duterte administration, saying no one is safe anymore.
"Mariin nating kinukundena ang lahat ng karahasan at patayan na nangyayari sa ating lipunan. Nakakabahala na talaga ang tumitinding karahasan sa ating lipunan. Kaliwa't kanan ang patayan kahit sa harap ng maraming tao. Wala nang pinipili ang nagiging biktima. Opisyal ng gobyerno, pari, tambay – wala nang ligtas sa panahon ngayon. Wala nang ligtas kahit saan, kahit sino," Aquino said.
(We strongly condemn all forms of violence and killings in the country. The worsening violence in our society is truly alarming, with killings committed left and right, even in front of the public. No one is being spared. Government officials, priests, loiterers – no one is safe anymore. No one is safe anywhere, no one is safe.)
Senate public order committee chairman Panfilo Lacson said the attacks against Halili, other local officials, and priests in broad daylight suggest "the impunity and brazenness" of criminals.
"The killing of priests, prosecutors, and former and incumbent local officials in broad daylight and in full view of the public may be suggestive of the impunity and brazenness of those responsible for such acts," Lacson said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, for his part, described Halili's killing as a "cowardly act."
"Criminality in the country has always been alarming, that's why we want government to come down hard on the criminals and not contradict efforts to do so. [Criminals] have always been bold. This one is a coward. Sniper ang ginamit (A sniper was used)," Sotto said.
Challenge to PNP
Senators called on the PNP to take measures against the killings, with Lacson, a former PNP chief, pushing for stricter gun control.
"The Philippine National Police should feel challenged, if not taunted. And they must immediately consider stricter firearms control strategies before similar killings could reach ubiquitous levels," Lacson said.
"I condemn this cowardly act! I am concerned with the recent killings of priests and government officials. This should challenge the PNP to further improve their capability to protect the Filipino people," Ejercito said.
"We condemn the killing whatever the motive may be and we ask the PNP and the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) to exhaust all means to bring the perpetrators to justice," Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said.
Halili gained prominence for implementing a "walk of shame" for drug suspects back in 2016, where he paraded alleged drug personalities for everyone to see. This practice was slammed by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) because parading suspects is unconstitutional.
Halili was stripped of powers to supervise local police in November 2017 after being linked by the government to illegal drugs. (READ: PDEA: Drug-linked governors, congressmen, mayors to be named next)
Earlier in October 2016, then Senior Superintendent Robert Baesa asked Halili to surrender for his alleged links to the narcotics trade. The mayor refused to surrender. – Rappler.com