Philippine Daily Inquirer

Spi­ral of vi­o­lence

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The footage—dif­fer­ent ver­sions are now on­line—of the long-range as­sas­si­na­tion of Mayor An­to­nio Halili of Tanauan, Batan­gas, is chill­ing. The sight of him flinch­ing, then stag­ger­ing, then fall­ing out of the view of the cam­era, then slumped on the ground, is un­nerv­ing for many rea­sons. Two horrifying facts stand out: First, the as­sas­si­na­tion is so brazen it is hap­pen­ing out in the open, while city of­fi­cials are as­sem­bled for the Mon­day flag cer­e­mony; and sec­ond, the as­sas­sin is nowhere to be seen.

Be­fore the na­tion could re­cover from the shock of such a pub­lic dis­play of cal­cu­lated vi­o­lence, an­other mayor, this time from Nueva Ecija, was killed in an am­bush while ex­it­ing from a gov­ern­ment com­pound the fol­low­ing day. Gen­eral Tinio Mayor Fer­di­nand Bote was shot dead out­side the Na­tional Ir­ri­ga­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fice in Cabanatuan City by two men on a mo­tor­cy­cle.

In a help­ful list com­piled by Rap­pler iden­ti­fy­ing the may­ors and vice may­ors killed in the two years since Pres­i­dent Duterte came to of­fice, the 72-year-old Halili and the 57-year-old Bote are marked as the ninth and 10th may­ors to be as­sas­si­nated in of­fice since July 2016. The list also in­cludes four vice may­ors.

In­stead of de­cry­ing the spi­ral of vi­o­lence which claimed the lives of so many pub­lic of­fi­cials, Pres­i­dent Duterte on the night of Halili’s killing es­sen­tially said he had it com­ing. “He pre­tends that the il­le­gal drug prob­lem is get­ting worse; he pre­tends to pa­rade the drug ad­dicts. He was killed ear­lier. I don’t know who killed him. I said not to get in­volved in il­le­gal drugs.” Then he added, for good mea­sure: “I heard that Halili died. But I sus­pect that it’s re­lated to drugs. Just a sus­pi­cion.”

Halili’s fam­ily and al­lies, many of whom are ac­tu­ally Duterte sup­port­ers, too, ve­he­mently con­test the Pres­i­dent’s de­scrip­tion of the dead mayor as in­volved in drugs.

The Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice has also helped to muddy the waters. On Wed­nes­day, PNP Cal­abar­zon di­rec­tor, Chief Supt. Ed­ward Car­ranza, said no one should de­scribe Halili’s as­sas­sin as a sniper.

“At a dis­tance of 160 me­ters, any­body who is pro­fi­cient enough in long firearms can hit that tar­get. Once we speak of snipers, we re­fer to a dis­tance of 500 me­ters and be­yond,” Car­ranza told re­porters. “Once you use the word ‘sniper,’ you are re­fer­ring to the po­lice or mil­i­tary.”

Maybe Car­ranza was merely be­ing care­ful not to cast as­per­sions on the po­lice and es­pe­cially the mil­i­tary. But in fact, the use of the word “sniper” is not lim­ited to the “we” that he uses, mean­ing the po­lice and the mil­i­tary. In or­di­nary usage, it means “some­one who, while hid­den, tries to shoot a per­son with a gun” (Cam­bridge English Dic­tionary).

That’s one of the most horrifying de­tails about the Halili as­sas­si­na­tion—that some­one had shot him from far away, while hid­den. In­deed, the place the sniper used to kill Halili with one shot was im­me­di­ately found.

Bote’s killing fol­lowed the pat­tern of many oth­ers: armed men rid­ing tan­dem on a mo­tor­cy­cle. The sheer bru­tal­ity of it still shocks, es­pe­cially when one looks at the pic­tures. But it is Halili’s killing, by a sniper, that tells us that the cul­ture of im­punity that has be­dev­iled our land has evolved to a new, more sin­is­ter state.

That list of 10 may­ors and four vice may­ors also brings its own kind of shock. Many of the killed were al­leged, and some were proven, to have been heav­ily in­volved in drugs—in­clud­ing Rolando Es­pinosa Sr. and Rey­naldo Paro­jinog. What do their killings mean for the rule of law that is sup­posed to pro­tect us pre­cisely from the drug lords and their as­sas­sins?

His­tory has taught us that the only way to break the spi­ral of vi­o­lence is to ap­ply the law to its fullest ex­tent. And, yet, is this be­ing done in any way at present?

IT IS HALILI’S KILLING, BY A SNIPER, THAT TELLS US THAT THE CUL­TURE OF IM­PUNITY THAT HAS BE­DEV­ILED OUR LAND HAS EVOLVED TO A NEW, MORE SIN­IS­TER STATE

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