Amid the shock at the murders of two town mayors on consecutive days in Batangas and Nueva Ecija, we think it is important for both the public and the police authorities to desist from quickly jumping to conclusions and pretending to understand the nature of the problem facing our law enforcement system and society at large.
Until the killings of mayors Antonio Halili and Ferdinand Bote are fully investigated and satisfactory answers and conclusions are reached, the benefits of theorizing, moralizing and pseudo-sleuthing will be dubious.
We do not automatically advance the cause of public order and justice by summarily proclaiming “an upsurge of crime and violence” in our society. We also do not just wise up to this unpleasant and tragic situation by declaring that there is now “a culture of impunity” in our country.
What are the facts we know so far? We know this:
1. Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan, Batangas, was shot dead during the regular flag-raising ceremony at the Tanauan townhall on Monday, July 2.
Halili was allegedly included in the list of mayors linked to the illegal drug trade and the coddling of drug lords by local officials.
In a show of support for President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, Mayor Halili had made a big show of parading drug suspects in a “walk of shame.” Duterte branded the parade as an attempt to cover up Halili’s links to the drug trade.
2. Halili was not the first slain mayor from Duterte’s list. Other mayors on the list who have been killed are: Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte; Reynaldo Parojinog of Ozamiz City; and Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
3. Mayor Ferdinand Bote of General Tinio, Nueva Ecija was not included in the narco-list. He was a member of the administration party, PDP-Laban. He was a first-time mayor and was regarded as a loyal supporter of the administration. He died from multiple gunshot wounds in an attack by a motorcycle-riding gunman a day after Halili was killed by an assassin’s bullet.
Primarily as a result of the killings this week, local executives under the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) have sought a dialogue with President Duterte to bring up their concerns over the alleged narco-list, or the dossier on officials with links to the drugs trade.
LMP President Marie Fe Brondial, mayor of Socorro, Oriental Mindoro, said the group had requested a meeting with the President amid growing unrest among local chief executives. Brondial said fear for their lives was the primary concern of the town mayors following the deaths of officials allegedly tagged as involved in the drug trade.
“They are nervous, especially the female mayors,” Brondial said. “It’s really tragic and ghastly, what’s happening to the mayors,” she said.
Mayor Brondial sounded ominous when she said, “From what is happening now, we can see that the killers have no fear, no fear of God or respect for human life, so it’s really scary to be a public official.”
Most anxious are those who declare they are not involved in illegal drugs but whose names have turned up in the so-called narco-list.
They justifiably ask why, even in the presence of proper courts and an Ombudsman in the country, has the DILG not filed complaints against erring mayors? Why are they meted death?
Those that have been implicated in the illegal drug trade have also been stripped of authority over the local police.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson attributed the string of murders to the proliferation of loose firearms. He called on the PNP to conduct stricter firearms control.
Strangely, the Department of the Interior and Local Government and its officer-in-charge, Ret. Gen. Eduardo Ano, have had very little to say about the situation. And yet it is at the DILG where mayors normally should seek assistance.