[New presidency Special Edition] Batangas’ ‘punisher’ counters ‘The Punisher’ on how to curb drug trade


TANAUAN CITY, BATANGAS–As new President Rodrigo Duterte used his inaugural to toughen up a national state apparatus’ confrontations with drug dealers, this city’s own “punisher” does not wholly agree with the nation’s new chief executive.

Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili, sworn in to a second three-year term hours before Duterte’s own inaugural in Manila, said he does not fully agree with President Duterte’s shoot-to-kill and rewards policy to rid the country of illegal drugs.

Batangas province's own 'punisher,' second-term Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili supports new President Rodrigo Duterte's mandate to curb the drug trade in the country. But  Halili disagrees with Duterte's approach to killing suspected drug criminals (photo from the Facebook page of Tanauan City's Hope).

Batangas province’s own ‘punisher,’ second-term Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili supports new President Rodrigo Duterte’s mandate to curb the drug trade in the country. But Halili disagrees with Duterte’s approach to killing suspected drug criminals (photo from the Facebook page of Tanauan City’s Hope).

In his speech at the city gymnasium, Halili said that policy is “prone to abuse;” any policeman can use it to justify killing somebody, which may include that of their personal enemies.

The worst part of that policy, adds the former businessman, is that these people would even get rewarded by the president or the mayor for killing someone out of suspicion –not through possessing clear evidence– that he is a drug dealer.

“I believe Duterte’s promise to rid the Philippines of illegal drugs will only materialize if done in the right manner,” Halili told attendees to his inaugural. “They should cut out the sources of drugs.”

These sources may include drugs being smuggled by foreigners in the country as well as the shabu manufacturing laboratories.

He also believes killing the suspected drug personalities won’t solve the problem itself. Even if they kill the suspects, there are many others who would eventually replace them given the lucrative nature of the drug trade.

The tougher road ahead to arrest Tanauan City’s lingering tag as the province’s “drug dealing capital” is attacking the root causes of the drug problem –poverty and unemployment. The approach, for Halili, is to put more engine into the city’s economy with the “right infrastructure that would eventually entice businesspeople to invest.”

This infrastructure is not only the literal public works projects, but the policies that can make the city more business friendly.

Tanauan City, some 66 kms. south of Manila, has over-2,500 registered businesses and over-30 business groups. City data provided to the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) also show that getting new permits only takes a day and some 2.5 steps, and renewing business permits is up to two days with the same 2.5 steps. The city, which collected P375.4 million in business and real property taxes in 2014, has also been long running a local investment office and enforcing an investment code.

Since Halili started his term in 2013, he had already made several beautification projects like constructing covered sidewalks and painting lamp posts, buildings and other structures –all as visual come-ons to would-be investors. Already the city government is planning to relocate its city hall at the Laurel Hill in Barangay Natatas so as to move development from the congested city proper area to the rural barangays. (The project is expected to finish by December 2016.)

Halili said some developers, including one of his friends, have already expressed interest to do business in Tanauan City and have just purchased a 40 ha. lot near the new city hall site, nbot to mention looking to buy more land. (However, not all residents are happy with the city hall’s relocation especially those living in Tanauan City’s poblacion.)

“To lead a city is not a joke. You just can’t please everyone. But like what I said we are transferring our city hall there because the Poblacion area is very much saturated. We can’t do anything about it since we cant remove the structures there. What we need is a new further expansion of the city,” Halili said.

Aside from city hall, the local government under Halili is also planning to renovate the public market with designated parking spaces for vehicles.  Halili also wants to turn the city’s existing slaughterhouse to a halal slaughterhouse. Constructing farm-to-market roads in rural barangays, that are connected to the national highway, is also in the pipeline.

Halili, a former businessman and known supporter of Duterte, has been infamous for the so-called walk of shame where he orders suspected criminals to walk in public as a means to humiliate them and prevent others from doing the same misdeeds. Since March 2014, the mayor had paraded suspected thieves of dried fish, jacket and cable wire; an alleged rapist; and a group of alleged drug pushers and users.

Mayor Halili claims this two-year-old  method is “effective.” For example, shortly after parading a dried fish robber, cases of theft in the public market have stopped.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has previously lambasted Halili for the said activity which they said infringes the suspect’s right to due process and is also a form of cruel punishment, which violates the Anti-Torture Law. However, the mayor has repeatedly defended the said method of punishment for criminals saying he’s only doing his job as mayor to maintain peace and order in the city under his care.

Nevertheless, Halili’s tough stance is not an automatic cure to bring down crime. Batangas provincial police statistics showed Tanauan’s crime volume had increased to 434 in 2015 from previous year’s 419. Theft incidents, however, decreased from 60 to 36.

On Thursday’s speech, the mayor likewise said he would continue parading suspects to let people know those faces that they should avoid for being a bad influence. “They were talking about human rights but I told them we also have the right to information and our people have the right to know who they should avoid. If they have human rights and as a consequence they felt tortured since they got shamed then its so be it, it’s not my concern,” Halili said.

And in his own inaugural address, Duterte told CHR, Congress and “other similarly situated” government agencies this message: “You mind your work and I will mind mine.”

Some Tanaueños interviewed by The Filipino Connection approve the mayor’s walk of shame campaign. They think it’s an effective deterrent against crime.

“I’m all for it so that they wont do it again,” says 30-year-old resident Kristine Alcanas. Unlike Halili, she thinks though that killing suspected pushers may be “necessary at some point” just to be able to send the message to criminals that the government is serious in its campaign.

Ernie Bonafe echoed Kristine’s views saying “Perhaps it’s about time (to shame suspects) because there are so many pushers here,” Ernie Bonafe said.

Once the city solves the drug problems, Bonafe thinks Tanauan City “will be more peaceful and orderly.”

Julie Cuevas, a sidewalk vendor at the JP Laurel Highway who has also witnessed several walk of shame parades, says “I’m not in favor of it because I pity those being paraded. They better just talk (to the person involved.)”



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