President Duterte has ordered an immediate probe that would lead to the arrest of the gunmen in the recent assassinations of Tanauan City, Batangas Mayor Antonio Halili and General Tinio, Nueva Ecija Mayor Ferdinand Bote in response to apprehensions from local officials who fear for their safety.
“Imbestigahan at hulihin ang mga pumapatay, ‘yan po ang malinaw na instruction ng Presidente (Investigate and arrest the killers, that is the clear instruction of the President),” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said.
“It is important that the State fulfill its obligation to bring justice to the victims to prevent such crime from repeatedly happening,” he reiterated.
“There is a need to instill fear in the hearts and minds of the killers,” he added.
Roque said the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) officer-in-charge Eduardo Año and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Albayalde held a dialogue with the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) members made up of local officials to address the issue.
ULAP wants to vet list
“ULAP expressed alarm and worries over the recent killings of local officials,” Roque said.
ULAP wanted to be part of the vetting process on the names to be included in the “narco list,” or the dossier of officials allegedly linked to illegal drugs.
Roque said the officials under ULAP wanted to be notified whenever certain names were added or removed from the list.
“They (ULAP) said there were also political reasons for some names to appear on the list,” he explained.
Roque said the DILG and the PNP would study ULAP’s request, although he noted the agencies stood by the veracity of the list, citing the notable improvements in the manner by which the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) maintains and updates it.
“They have now moved towards a central database for all narco-personalities. So, apparently, all agencies now coordinate with PDEA because PDEA has the mandate under the law to implement the Dangerous Drugs Act. All intelligence information are now submitted to PDEA and it is incumbent upon PDEA now to verify these intelligence reports,” Roque said.
No lone wolf
The assassin of Halili may not be a lone wolf after all based on the result of the Philippine National Police-Calabarzon reenactment of the events leading to the death of Halili.
Halili was killed by a single bullet to his chest last Monday morning during the flag rites at the city hall.
Calabarzon police Chief Supt. Edward Carranza said the reenactment revealed that there was another person assisting him as they hid in a grassy area with a vantage point four meters high and an aerial distance of 78.6 meters from the target.
Carranza deduced with this kind of vantage point, the mayor was “an easy target” for the assassin.
“We are only deducing (that) together with the gunman, another person probably assisted him,” he added.
The PNP-Calabarzon head also bared a shell of an M16 rifle was recovered from the gunman’s suspected hideout, noting the depression on the grass also indicated he could have been accompanied by a lookout, he said.
Not an ace sniper
Carranza said the gunman may not have been an expert sniper, saying instead of targeting the head of the mayor for instant death, the killer opted to go for a single shot in the chest which is an easier and wider target.
“He opted for a body, which is a bigger target, so it may indicate he is not confident in the way he used the firearm. If the gunman is a real sniper, at a distance of 1 kilometer, he can have a head shot,” Carranza said.
Investigators were still looking into how the gunman escaped from the grassy area that leads to a cemetery.
Carranza said the police have identified a suspect whom he declined to identify.
Meanwhile, PNP chief Albayalde said Halili was allegedly involved in a dispute with a “former general” before his untimely demise.
“He had a fight with a former general who was high ranking…that was alleged with regard to his involvement in illegal drugs,” Albayalde said in an online interview.
“Though I am not yet sure of the real reason for their dispute,” he said.
Albayalde added they are still verifying if the former general was from the police or military service.
“They just said he is a general, so that is part of the investigation actually,” he said.
The task force in charge of probing the murder is looking into three possible motives — politics, the “shame campaign” on suspected criminals the mayor waged in his city, and his alleged involvement in illegal drugs.
A challenge to PNP
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who is a former PNP chief, said police should consider the recent killings of Halili and Bote as a challenge to prove their worth as primary government unit in charge of peace and order.
“We have only one PNP and we have no choice but to trust the PNP. But the PNP should be deserving of the trust,” said Lacson during a weekly forum at the Senate.
“I still want to believe that we have to trust the PNP,” added Lacson, who admitted having known Halili personally.
According to Lacson, based on his own information, Halili was not involved in the proliferation of illegal drugs.
Police said Halili’s alleged link to illegal drugs is among the angles being considered in the assassination.
Lacson, who visited the wake of Halili Wednesday, said he has known the mayor since he was with the defunct Philippine Constabulary (PC).
Lacson called on the PNP to implement strict firearms control to address such kinds of killing.
“And I trust the PNP has a lot of competent investigators and intelligence operatives to conduct follow-up operations,” Lacson said.
The senator also welcomed the dialogue being sought by the League of Mayors with Malacanang to address the concerns of the local chief executives.
Mario J. Mallari, Pat C. Santos