Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili was killed by a single shot to the chest from an unknown assailant, Police Superintendent Renato Mercado told CNN, in a hit captured on video which showed scenes of panic seconds after the shot was fired.
In the video, Halili is seen standing in a line with government employees as the flag is raised and those in attendance sing the national anthem.
As the camera strays to film another group, a single shot rings out, followed by screams and a woman’s voice, saying “oh my God” in English. While the victim is not seen on camera after the shot is fired, the content of the video could be upsetting to some viewers.
The mayor’s security returned fire, according to state media
Philippines News Agency (PNA), causing panic as government officials and staff ran for cover.
Gerry Laresma, the government employee who shot the video, told PNA it wasn’t clear where the shot had originated. He said Halili had received death threats because of his strong anti-crime push.
Vice Mayor Jhoanna Corona-Villamor told CNN that she saw the gunshot hit him “right in the middle of his chest” and, through her fear, worried that he might not survive. Then she fled.
“When I saw everyone running, I started running — I went inside City Hall. I was still in panic then I heard more gunshots. I asked my staff to check if there were more (people) hurt; thank God no one else was,” said Corona-Villamor.
“The gunshots were actually from the mayor’s security hoping they would hit the suspect as they fired towards the direction where the gunshot came from,” she added.
She said that she was still shaken by the experience.
“Who wouldn’t be scared when the mayor was shot right beside me and in full view of everyone?
“Everyone here is mourning, grieving… we lost a great mayor,” she said.
Provincial Chief Superintendent Edward E. Caranza told PNA that the bullet was fired from a distance, most likely using a 5.56 or 7.62 caliber high-powered rifle.
Halili was declared dead at the Reyes Memorial Hospital in the city less that an hour after the shot was fired around 8 a.m. Monday (8 p.m. Sunday ET), attending physician Alexander Carandang said.
Philippine National Police Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said that a regional special task group had been convened to investigate the killing, according to CNN affiliate CNN Philippines
, and that the suspect parades were being considered as a motive.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque condemned the killing, saying that Halili was an ally of Duterte, and that justice would be served, CNN Philippines reported.
Shocked city employees mourned the loss of the well-liked figure. “We did not just lose a mayor but a father,” one told CNN, adding that he always greeted them with a cheery “good morning” upon arriving at City Hall.
His assistant, Malen Calimahad worked for him for five years and said she’d miss “the Mayor’s jokes. He was a happy person.” She said that he’d been under the weather for the past few days but came in anyway, such was his dedication, Calimahad said.
The ‘Duterte of Batangas’
Those paraded had confessed to drug offenses but had not been formally charged, Mayor Halili told CNN in an interview in 2016.
Halili started the contentious policy in 2014 with the help of his 70-strong “anti-crime group,” government officials who dressed in all black and patrolled the streets, some armed with their own guns.