Two dead mayors in two days. They weren’t the first politicians in the Philippines to be murdered since Rodrigo Duterte became the president. Their deaths bring the number of dead mayors in the Philippines over the last two-plus years to 10. The one thing they had in common, aside from being mayors in the Philippines, is that they weren’t popular with Duterte. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it doesn’t appear to be that way.
The Philippines has long been known for leaders that were as happy to opt for an expedient assassination as diplomacy when it came to solving internal issues or securing power. In recent history, however, none have been as brazenly flippant about murder as a means to solve any problem as Duterte has been. Duterte maintains that anything that happens is all in the name of law and order and winning his war on drugs.
The war on drugs in the Philippines has not been very successful so far. With an estimated 20,000 deaths that can directly be linked to it since Duterte took office, it is the bloodiest war on drugs in the world. Philippine Rights organizations have alleged that the war is only partially on drugs, that in many instances, it is actually nothing more than a cover to be used in the murder of anyone Duterte identifies as a threat to his power.
Only days before the murder of Antonio Halili, he was added to Duterte’s list of narcotics connected persons. There was no proof of this, but that isn’t often an issue. Time reported Duterte had made a statement only four days earlier that may have potentially incited the murders.
“The earlier you do away with your mayor, the earlier you become the mayor also.”
Whether or not that quote actually played a part in either assassination may never be known. What is certain is that Duterte regularly speaks of violence. He has bragged about killing a man. He has spoken of using murder as an effective tool, and since he took office in 2016, the Philippines have been dubbed the murder capital of Asia. It is known that a cult of personality has grown around Duterte that has the vocal support of people like former boxer turned Senator Manny Pacquiao claiming that anything Duterte does is just to help better the country.
The UN Human Rights Council doesn’t agree Duterte is good for the country, nor do a number of rights watch organizations both in the Philippines and abroad. No matter how much they all watch and report, however, it is too late for Mayor Ferdinand Bote who was ambushed in his car by men on motorcycles and gunned down, and Mayor Antonio Halili who was cut down by a sniper while singing the national anthem national in front of Tanauan City Hall in Batangas.