Mayor Ferdinand Bote of General Tinio in Nueva Ecija, Philippines, was pronounced dead Tuesday shortly after a gunman approached his car on a motorcycle and shot him dead in the town, the second assassination of a mayor in the country in as many days.
Bote’s murder follows the killing of Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan City, Batangas, in front of a crowd assembled for a flag-raising ceremony on Monday morning. The government of President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed a thorough investigation and justice in both cases. No evidence exists that Bote was either accused of involvement in the nation’s sprawling illegal drug trade or had become a significant target for drug criminals, unlike Halili, who somehow found himself as both.
The assassinations occurred almost 150 miles apart on the northern island of Luzon, and no evidence suggests that they are related as of press time.
Bote was leaving the headquarters of the National Irrigation Administration in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, on Tuesday afternoon in a Toyota Fortuner when a motorcycle slid up to the car and someone shot him dead. National Irrigation Administration security cameras caught the incident on video; the agency released that footage on Tuesday:
Police told the Philippine outlet Rappler that Bote “was repeatedly shot with the use of [a] short firearm by [an] unidentified suspect” who has since fled “to the east” and has not been found. The Philippine Star reports that the Philippine National Police (PNP) has been ordered to put together a special investigative task force to find the killer.
“We assure everyone that we would discharge the state obligation for every murder. We will spare no effort in getting to the bottom of this latest violent crime,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters after authorities confirmed Bote’s death.
Bote’s town, General Tinio, is not considered a hotbed for violent crime. It has a better-known reputation for its natural beauty, serving as home to the lush Minalungao National Park, which Bote appeared to treat as his main responsibility to protect. The province of Nueva Ecija generally has seen significant violent crime, however, most recently the murder of a Catholic priest shortly after, on behalf of alleged victims, he sued other members of the church for molestation. Father Richmond Nilo was shot dead in a chapel in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija, last month. Nilo was shot publicly before an estimated 70 churchgoers, according to Rappler.
Police arrested one suspect in relation to the killing, whom they stated was “a drug surrenderer and alleged member of a gun-for-hire syndicate,” the Manila Bulletin reported. The Inquirer reported later that Father Nilo had apparently been the victim of a contract killing, triggered by Nilo’s protection of altar servers who had accused another of molesting them.
Earlier in June, Nueva Ecija saw a violent drug bust result in the killing of two in simultaneous shootouts in Cabanatuan City and Peñaranda.
Bote himself, however, does not appear to have any ties to either the violence surrounding the Nilo killing or illegal drug trafficking. While President Duterte has published multiple lists of politicians police found evidence of having a hand in drug trafficking, Bote appears never to have been named, nor has Duterte made any public comments indicating so following his filling.
Bote becomes the twelfth local official killed during the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte and the second this week. The first, Antonio Halili, was the mayor of the much larger Tanauan City, south of Manila. Unlike Bote, Halili had developed both a reputation for having a heavy hand against drug traffickers and negotiating with them. Halili appeared on a more recent Duterte list of elected officials with ties to drug trafficking in 2017. Shortly after Halili’s assassination, Duterte told reporters, “I don’t know who killed him, but I told you don’t [engage in illegal drugs]. … His procession of drug suspects was just a front.”
Prior to this accusation, however, Halili had established a “walk of shame” program where he paraded drug suspects around his city for the public to jeer, leading others in the government to suggest he was killed by drug traffickers in revenge for humiliating their peers.
Halili’s daughter, Angeline, told ABS-CBN on Tuesday that police had fed Duterte incorrect information.
“I cannot blame our president for saying that if he was being given wrong information and information meant to hurt and malign people who are doing good,” she said. “If our president would visit us, be with us every day, spend every day with us, he would know the truth.”