By Martin Sadongdong
The city mayor of Tanuan City was shot dead by at least two suspects, one of them a “highly-skilled” sharpshooter, during a flag-raising ceremony Monday morning at the city hall grounds.
Tanauan (Batangas) Mayor Antonio Halili was declared dead on arrival around 8:45 a.m. at CP Reyes Medical Center after he sustained a lone gunshot wound in the chest.
Initial report from the Calabarzon Police Regional Office (PRO-4A) showed Halili was attending the flag-raising ceremony at the grounds of New City Hall in Barangay Natatas, Tanauan City with his employees when he was shot around 8:10 a.m.
According to Romy, a city hall employee, they were singing the national anthem when the deafening sound of a gun shot erupted amid the serene environment.
“We did not realize immediately that it was a gunshot. Only when the other employees started shouting that Mayor [Halili] was shot did we know what was going around,” Romy told the Manila Bulletin. He requested for anonymity out of fear.
Chief Superintendent Edward Carranza, regional director of the Calabarzon Police Regional Office (PRO-4A), said a “spotting area” was discovered around 160 to 200 meters northwest of the Tanauan City Hall.
“We believe it was where the gunman positioned himself, he was lying down. It was elevated, dense and grassy. The gunman possibly had an aide, a spotter,” Carranza said in Tagalog.
“[The suspect was] highly-skilled, definitely, and this was a planned killing,” he added.
Carranza said the gunman and the spotter must have just walked into the grassy portion and made a hole among the thick grass where the target could easily be seen.
“Nobody saw the gunman. We have a CCTV footage but no sightings of the gunman. But I believe they had a get-away vehicle,” Carranza added.
He also revealed that the close-in security aides of Halili returned fire upon hearing the gun shot.
Empty cartridges from caliber .45 and 9mm guns belonging to the security aides were recovered at the parking lot of the city hall.
“No shell was found at the spotting area but we are hoping we can recover the bullet that killed him,” Carranza said.
He explained they will have to wait for the medical report from Dr. Alendrix Carandang to determine what type of bullet hit Mayor Halili.
“From there, we can identify what type of bullet and gun were used, maybe cross-match it,” he said.
Motive, SITG HALILI
Carranza said among the motives being eyed behind the killing of the 72-year-old mayor were revenge due to his controversial “walk of shame” campaign, politics, and personal vendetta.
“We have created a Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) Halili to expedite the resoltuion of this case,” he said.
According to Epifanio Yson, brother-in-law of Halili and executive assistant at the Tanauan City Information Office, panic ensued after Halili knelt down while cupping his left chest as blood oozed.
“Suddenly, his uniform was smeared with blood. One security aide checked his cellphone in his left chest pocket. It had a hole and smoke was coming out of it,” Yson recalled.
Apparently, the bullet hit the cellphone, passed through it, and hit Halili. This was confirmed by Carranza.
Yson believes that drug lords were behind the grim killing of the mayor.
“He is known to parade notorious criminals who are being arrested especially the drug pushers,” said Yson, his employee’s uniform still smeared in blood.
“The drug lords must have been very angry because their operations have been affected since many pushers were arrested here,” he added.
The “walk of shame” campaign, according to Yson, is an avenue for the public to recognize the criminals in the city and a warning to drug operators that they will be targeted next in Halili’s intensified campaign against illegal drugs.
“That campaign has been in effect since he came in 2013 and it never stopped. It was requested by the public to him,” Yson said.
Despite this, Carranza confirmed that Halili was stripped of police power by the National Police Commission in October 2017 after his alleged involvement in illegal drugs.
It was also learned that Halili, a two-term mayor, is planning to run in the upcoming 2019 elections for his third and last term. He would be unopposed, according to Yson.
Carranza said all possible motives will be investigated by the SITG Halili.
With the death of Halili, Carranza admitted peace climate in the city was heavily affected.
“It will affect the peace climate in Tanauan but we will make sure we will be doubling the deployment of our personnel,” he assured the public.
The Tanauan City Police will deploy all of its 100 personnel while the Regional Mobile Safety Battalion will also be sent to secure the city.
Checkpoints and ramdon flagdown of vehicles were also ordered by Carranza to track down locate the getaway vehicle of the suspects.