An unknown assailant shot and killed a Filipino mayor during a flag-raising ceremony at Tanauan City Hall Monday morning.
Tanauan Mayor Antonio Halili, a controversial political figure known for humiliating drug suspects while facing allegations of involvement in the drug trade, was felled by a single shot to the chest from a suspected sniper, Police Superintendent Renato Mercado told CNN. The incident occurred as the mayor and other government employees sang the national anthem.
Government security forces attempted to return fire, shooting in the direction they suspected the shot originated. Police scoured the nearby hills in search of a shooter, but the gunman presently remains at large, Philippine state media revealed.
“They did not see anybody approach him. They just heard a gunshot, so the assumption or allegation was it could have been a sniper shot,” Director-General Oscar Albayalde, the national police chief, said at a news conference, according to CBS News. The shot was fired from around 450 feet away. “The distance from the position was extraordinary. It could not be done by an ordinary person. His skill can be compared to a trained sniper,” Mercado told AFP.
An investigation into the shooting is underway, but without a shooter, a motive will be difficult to determine. Manhunt operations are in progress across the city of Tanauan.
The bullet hit a cellphone in the mayor’s pocket before piercing his chest. Halili was declared dead at Reyes Memorial Hospital about an hour after the fatal shooting.
Halili regarded himself as the “Duterte of Batangas,” identifying a strong supporter of president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who launched a brutal war on drugs that has ended thousands of lives and sparked international criticism. (RELATED: Duterte Now Says He’ll Execute Criminals Himself)
In addition to forcing drug suspects to make a so-called “walk of shame,” the mayor also sent out his “anti-crime group,” a 70-strong team dressed in all black and armed with guns, to patrol the streets. The Philippine president has been accused of running death squads during his time as mayor. There were allegations Halili was involved in the drug trade. He firmly denied these accusations, stating that he would make the “walk of shame” if evidence could be presented that he actually participated in the trade.
Halili was previously listed on Duterte’s list of officials involved in drug trafficking. Three other mayors on the list have been shot dead since the it was published. The Duterte administration condemned Halili’s killer, stating that justice would be served.
While Halili often received death threats, his employees at City Hall spoke highly of him. “We did not just lose a mayor but a father,” one told CNN after the shooting. “Everyone here is mourning, grieving … we lost a great mayor,” Vice Mayor Jhoanna Corona-Villamor told CNN reporters.
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