Spiral of violence
The footage—different versions are now online—of the long-range assassination of Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan, Batangas, is chilling. The sight of him flinching, then staggering, then falling out of the view of the camera, then slumped on the ground, is unnerving for many reasons. Two horrifying facts stand out: First, the assassination is so brazen it is happening out in the open, while city officials are assembled for the Monday flag ceremony; and second, the assassin is nowhere to be seen.
Before the nation could recover from the shock of such a public display of calculated violence, another mayor, this time from Nueva Ecija, was killed in an ambush while exiting from a government compound the following day. General Tinio Mayor Ferdinand Bote was shot dead outside the National Irrigation Administration office in Cabanatuan City by two men on a motorcycle.
In a helpful list compiled by Rappler identifying the mayors and vice mayors killed in the two years since President Duterte came to office, the 72-year-old Halili and the 57-year-old Bote are marked as the ninth and 10th mayors to be assassinated in office since July 2016. The list also includes four vice mayors.
Instead of decrying the spiral of violence which claimed the lives of so many public officials, President Duterte on the night of Halili’s killing essentially said he had it coming. “He pretends that the illegal drug problem is getting worse; he pretends to parade the drug addicts. He was killed earlier. I don’t know who killed him. I said not to get involved in illegal drugs.” Then he added, for good measure: “I heard that Halili died. But I suspect that it’s related to drugs. Just a suspicion.”
Halili’s family and allies, many of whom are actually Duterte supporters, too, vehemently contest the President’s description of the dead mayor as involved in drugs.
The Philippine National Police has also helped to muddy the waters. On Wednesday, PNP Calabarzon director, Chief Supt. Edward Carranza, said no one should describe Halili’s assassin as a sniper.
“At a distance of 160 meters, anybody who is proficient enough in long firearms can hit that target. Once we speak of snipers, we refer to a distance of 500 meters and beyond,” Carranza told reporters. “Once you use the word ‘sniper,’ you are referring to the police or military.”
Maybe Carranza was merely being careful not to cast aspersions on the police and especially the military. But in fact, the use of the word “sniper” is not limited to the “we” that he uses, meaning the police and the military. In ordinary usage, it means “someone who, while hidden, tries to shoot a person with a gun” (Cambridge English Dictionary).
That’s one of the most horrifying details about the Halili assassination—that someone had shot him from far away, while hidden. Indeed, the place the sniper used to kill Halili with one shot was
Bote’s killing followed the pattern of many others: armed men riding tandem on a motorcycle. The sheer brutality of it still shocks, especially when one looks at the pictures. But it is Halili’s killing, by a sniper, that tells us that the culture of impunity that has bedeviled our land has evolved to a new, more sinister state.
That list of 10 mayors and four vice mayors also brings its own kind of shock. Many of the killed were alleged, and some were proven, to have been heavily involved in drugs—including Rolando Espinosa Sr. and Reynaldo Parojinog. What do their killings mean for the rule of law that is supposed to protect us precisely from the drug lords and their assassins?
History has taught us that the only way to break the spiral of violence is to apply the law to its fullest extent. And, yet, is this being done in any way at present?
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