Philippine City Mayor Gunned Down During Flag-Raising Event

TANAUAN, Philippines (AP) -

A Philippine provincial city mayor known for parading drug suspects in public but also alleged to have drug ties himself was shot and killed by a sniper Monday in a brazen attack during a flag-raising ceremony in front of hundreds of horrified employees and village leaders.

The apparent lone gunshot felled Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan city in Batangas province south of Manila as he and about 300 employees and newly elected village leaders sang the national anthem in a parking lot outside the city hall. The gunman escaped, police officials and witnesses said.

“I didn’t know that it was gunfire until people started screaming, ‘Somebody’s shooting, somebody’s shooting,’ while running in all directions, and I saw my mayor slumped on the ground,” said village leader Rico Alcazar, who was in a crowd standing behind the 72-year-old Halili. “Everybody was shocked and it took some time before some carried the mayor and brought him away in a car.”

Halili’s bodyguards opened fire toward a grassy hill where the gunshot was apparently fired, adding to the bedlam, Alcazar said by phone.

The bullet hit a cell phone in Halili’s coat pocket and then pierced his chest, police said. Policemen scoured the hill but failed to find the gunman.

Halili’s killing came a few weeks after a Catholic priest was shot and killed at a village chapel in northern Nueva Ecija province.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, urged the police to impose stricter firearms control in light of the killings.

“The killing of priests, prosecutors and former and incumbent local officials in broad daylight and in full view of the public may be suggestive of the impunity and brazenness of those responsible for such acts,” Lacson said.

“The Philippine National Police should feel challenged, if not taunted,” he said. “And they must immediately consider stricter firearms control strategies before similar killings could reach ubiquitous levels.”