Philippine mayor on list of 'targets' linked to drugs shot dead by sniper

Mr Antonio Halili had expressed concern over the way police conducted the war on drugs.
Mr Antonio Halili had expressed concern over the way police conducted the war on drugs.

A Philippine mayor known for parading drug suspects through the streets of his city was shot dead as he presided over a flag-raising ceremony yesterday.

Police said Mr Antonio Halili, mayor of Tanauan city, 66km south of the capital Manila, was shot in the chest, possibly by a sniper, at around 8am.

The 72-year-old died on the way to hospital 45 minutes later. National police chief Oscar Albayalde said investigators had no leads yet, but that a task force was being formed to look into the killing.

Mr Halili was stripped of his supervisory powers over local police last October due to a proliferation of illegal drugs in his city.

He was on a list of "high-value targets" linked to drugs released last year by the National Police Commission. But he denied allegations that he was involved in the drug trade.

He backed President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, and was known for his "walk of shame" for suspected drug dealers.

In a statement, Mr Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said Mr Halili was a "a staunch ally in the war on drugs. He was an exemplary mayor. It's a big loss".

But in a speech later in the day, Mr Duterte contradicted his spokesman. He said he suspects Mr Halili had ties to the drug trade, and that the slain mayor's "shame campaign" was merely "a pretence".

Mr Halili was the fourth local politician to be killed in the government's controversial drug war, which has left more than 5,000 dead since June 2016.

In an interview with Reuters in 2016, Mr Halili said he believed drug kingpins should be the main targets of the campaign, otherwise thousands of people would be killed.

He had expressed concern over the way police conducted the war on drugs and the reliability of their intelligence, and that he might be accused of colluding with narcotics gangs.

"No one is safe - mayors, governors, congressmen - just a false intelligence report by the police can end up with any of them being destroyed," he said.

"I have a feeling they (police) are going after the small fry to frighten the people," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2018, with the headline 'Mayor on list of 'targets' linked to drugs shot dead'. Print Edition | Subscribe