Halili, who allegedly had ties to the illegal drug trade in the Philippines, was shot once through the chest by a high-powered rifle and died at the scene, according to local police. Footage showing pandemonium following the shooting, likely taken on a smartphone, has gone viral.
Halili had originally gained notoriety for his decision to organise a “walk of shame” parade of alleged drug dealers through his city of Tanauan in 2016. Though he said he took a hardline position against crime in keeping with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug policies, he appeared on the president’s “narco-list” of over 160 officials allegedly linked to narcotics in 2017.
Halili denied all allegations linking him to the proliferation of drug crime in his city, but was stripped of his supervisory power over local police late last year. In an interview with Reuters prior to being placed on the “narco-list”, Halili said that he was concerned he might be accused of colluding with narcotics gangs.
“No one is safe – mayors, governors, congressmen – just a false intelligence report by the police can end up with any of them being destroyed,” he told the news agency.
Three mayors also listed on the “narco-list” have been killed by police and anti-narcotics officers in the past two years. Another mayor on the list, Vicente Loot, survived an ambush two months ago after being publicly named by Duterte.
While local police have not yet confirmed a motive for the shooting, several officials and organisations have released statements under the assumption that his death was drug related.
“This is clearly another case of EJK (extra-judicial killing) resulting from the so-called drug war launched by the government,” said Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan in a statement.
The Human Rights Watch released a statement that condemned Halili’s “walk of shame”, which saw several alleged drug dealers forced to parade through city streets despite not having yet been formally charged, while also denouncing Halili’s shooting.
“While we did not agree with Mayor Halili’s method of dealing with crime and illegal drugs in his city, his murder is condemnable,” Human Rights Watch said in its statement. “He may have deprived many Tanauan residents of due process but that doesn’t mean he should be deprived of it too.”