Nationwide statistics show that about 18,000 to 20,000 deaths under investigation have been recorded by the police since middle of 2016 with about 2,800 of these recorded as deaths from a shootout with the authorities during legitimate police anti-illegal drug operations (The official Philippine National Police count is 4,251 dead on the campaign against illegal drugs, from July 1, 2016 to April 30, 2018 — editor).
In the last six months, on the other hand, three Roman Catholic priests had died violently in the hands of unidentified assailants. Two of the three were killed while in the performance of their priestly duties ironically inside the very church sanctuaries they were assigned to while the third one was on his way home after ministering to a suspected rebel whose release from police custody he had successfully negotiated.
This week alone, two municipal mayors likewise met their deaths in a violent way, again perpetrated by unidentified assailants.
Tanauan, Batangas Mayor Antonio Halili, 72, was shot by a sniper 78 meters away from where he was while presiding Monday’s flag-raising ceremony in front of his town’s municipal hall. Halili rose to prominence when he ordered arrested suspects of varying crimes and illegal drugs paraded in his town’s main thoroughfares under his shame campaign program.
On the day of Halili’s death, President Duterte in a speech in Maasin, Leyte insinuated that it might have been triggered by his alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade. Halili was on the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of high-value drug suspects. Duterte in his speech said the mayor’s shame campaign was a mere cover to conceal his own links to the drug trade.
But the slain mayor’s family strongly took exception to the President’s statement linking their patriarch to the drug trade, describing this as most unfair.
A day after the violent killing of Halili, Mayor Ferdinand Bote, 57, of General Tinio town in Nueva Ecija was ambushed by a lone gunman on board a motorcycle just after emerging from the gate of a government center in Cabanatuan City, the province’s capital, where he visited the irrigation office there. But follow-up police investigation showed there might be two other suspects who conspired in Bote’s assassination.
Unlike Halili, Bote was never linked to any illegal drug activity. This just made Bote’s killing more puzzling to the police. As a neophyte chief executive of Gen. Tinio town, Bote was said to be of clean record and was well-loved by his constituency, proved by the throng of supporters and sympathizers queueing to view his remains.
Police records also show there were three other mayors allegedly on the police list of high-value drug suspects who were previously killed separately and on different occasions. They were Saudi Ampatuan town Mayor Samsudin Dimaukon, Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa and Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog.
Dimaukon was shot dead after he and his bodyguards allegedly opted to shoot it out with policemen manning a checkpoint who flagged down his convoy. Espinosa was shot dead inside his prison cell when he allegedly engaged policemen in a shootout serving a warrant during the wee hours of the morning. Parojinog, meanwhile, was killed when he reportedly resisted arrest during a dawn raid on his house.
Undeniably, all these killings are causing some chilling effects on many of our countrymen.
Elective officials merely rumored to be on the police list of narco politicians have publicly admitted to have been gripped with fear because of this. And who would not be frightened in light of the killings of the above-named mayors?
Priests who have been viewed as very committed to the pursuit of their prophetic task of denouncing what is wrong, what is evil in present Philippine situation, have likewise expressed fears they might be next to be eliminated in light of the violent deaths their co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard had suffered.
Remember that two of the three, Rev. Frs. Richmond Nilo, 40, and Mark Anthony Ventura, 37, were mercilessly murdered inside the very church sanctuary they were serving. Nilo was shot dead during a Mass where he was the celebrant in Zaragoza town, Nueva Ecija. Ventura was at the doorstep of the parish in Gattaran town, Cagayan where he had just said Mass and was talking to one of his parishioners.
Both were largely known for their strong involvement in social and human rights issues in their respective parishes.
Paez, 72, was on his way home to Jaen, Nueva Ecija after securing the release of a political detainee when ambushed and killed.
Malacañang Palace has assured everyone that government will not leave stones unturned in its investigation of all these violent killings.