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At Large

Bullets and brawls

Perhaps the least surprised at his killing on Monday was Tanauan, Batangas Mayor Antonio Halili.

The town’s information officer told a radio interviewer that Halili “ate death threats for breakfast” since he became mayor in 2013. This was because, the official said, Halili had launched an “intensive” campaign against criminality in his town. Indeed, Halili gained a national profile for his rather novel way of dealing with criminals, particularly suspected drug users and pushers.

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This was the “walk of shame,” the Mayor’s penchant for having suspects paraded through public spaces with placards hung on their necks announcing their alleged crimes. Tanauan authorities said this was proof of Mayor Halili’s resolve to crack down on the drug trade.

Instead, he found a place in President Duterte’s list of “drug personalities,” suspected of being a drug lord or distributor himself.

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So, I guess the Mayor, given the number of people who held grudges against him, expected, or at least kept at the back of his mind, the shots that rang out even while he was presiding over the weekly flag-raising ceremony at the town hall.

P-Duts had little love lost nor sympathy for the slain official, bringing up Halili’s alleged drug links and implying this was the reason he was killed.

Police investigators said the shooter had been hiding in a “nest” in the middle of a grassy field some distance from the site of the flag-raising rites. This implies, for me, a shooter with advanced training that can be obtained only from the police or military, as well as access to and facility with high-powered arms.

“Impunity” comes to mind. Even with his alleged links to drugs, Mayor Halili was still a prominent official, and his assassination comes as a shock, sending a signal that anyone and everyone is vulnerable—from tambays to priests, from police and military troopers caught in friendly fire, to mayors and officials of lower rank.

I wouldn’t be surprised if mayors all over the country are even now looking over their shoulders. This, given the President’s advice to an assembly of vice mayors that their best chance of getting to be mayor in next year’s polls would be to have their present mayors killed. It’s a political Wild, Wild West we’re living in now!

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Quite another sign that we’re living in a violent society was the “basketbrawl” between the Philippines and Australia the night of Mayor Halili’s murder.

I didn’t watch that particular game, and I haven’t been following the Gilas’ journey to the FIBA finals. But, still, news of the fisticuffs came as a rather rude shock. This wasn’t “just” any PBA game, it was a game between two national teams, with their national reputations on the line.

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I’ve seen internet videos of the crucial moments and, to be honest, I can’t even tell, nor am I interested in telling, who’s at fault. Let’s just say all the players—and their coaches, staff, referees and even the onlookers—are guilty of losing it in front of the basketball-loving public and a presumably worldwide audience. Even worse are the justifications being aired by players involved in the melee, citing their “loyalty” to their teammates and even—yecch—their duty to uphold national pride.

I agree 100 percent with the commentary in Rappler of Natashya Gutierrez that Gilas “should apologize because when athletes represent their country, their actions reflect not just on them but on the nation as a whole.” And, indeed, they shamed us.

Gutierrez likewise reminded the players and their management that “athletes need to remember it is a privilege and an honor to carry our flag, to represent the nation, to uphold our values as a people.”

But what did Gilas represent last Monday? Our violent tendencies (as exemplified by our political leadership, by the way); inability to control our emotions and behavior; and sense of impunity and privilege even if (or because?) we were the host country.

At this juncture, it hardly matters how our national team will fare in the world championships. We have already lost, and we hang our heads in shame.

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TAGS: Antonio Halili, At Large, basketbrawl, FIBA, Philippine vs Australia, Rina Jimenez-David, walk of shame, war on drugs
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