President Rodrigo Duterte said he might arm barangay officials following the spate of killings of community leaders and warned of a “radical change” to ensure law and order in the Philippines, but lawmakers from both sides of the political fence opposed the idea.
“I might consider arming you. If I think in my assessment and evaluation if you are really into it, I will support you. And I may grant you possession and to carry your firearms,” the President said during the oathtaking of newly elected barangay officials in Clark, Pampanga, Tuesday night.
He said the rules governing the use of firearms for ordinary civilians will also apply to barangay captains, and this would include having the firearms licensed and securing a permit to carry it outside of their residence.
At least 20 barangay captains and kagawads were killed from January to May this year. The latest killing was on May 14 identified as Leonilo Arbonido, barangay captain of Julugan VI in Tanza, Cavite, who was shot dead by unidentified armed men onboard a motorcycle.
The President also assured his full support to barangay officials who might face lawsuits while performing their duty, saying he was ready to intervene and support their cause.
However, Duterte warned the barangay officials that if they cannot govern their respective communities the way they should be run, he would not hesitate to throw them in jail.
“Should there will be more cases of rape, killings, illegal drugs, then there must be something seriously wrong... Either you are into it, or you do not do what is expected of you,” he told the newly elected local officials.
The President also urged the newly elected officials to work closely with the national government in creating solutions that not only respond to the needs of our citizens, but also restore their faith and confidence in their leaders’ and the institutions’ capacity to serve.
“What we do now—what will now do is to help shape our nation’s future. If we are to create progress that is truly substantial and sustainable, we must demonstrate the passion and determination to secure and improve the lives of our people,” he said.
“I have the greatest trust in the experience and ability that each one of you possesses. Together, let us use this opportunity to bring valuable and meaningful reforms in our bureaucracy so that we can get rid of society’s ills and usher in real and lasting change for the benefit of the people,” he added.
During the oath taking ceremony, President Duterte reiterated that he would have to use emergency powers and make “radical changes” to address the rising crime rates and restore order.
Duterte warned both criminals and erring government personnel.
The President remarks were triggered by the killing of an assistant prosecutor of the Office of the Ombudsman who was stabbed to death by a jeepney barker, Angelito Avenido, who had a history of drug use, and of robbery and killings connected to his drug use.
Assistant Prosecutor Madonna Joy Tanyag was reportedly four months pregnant when she was stabbed to death by the suspect.
The President was also alarmed by the killings of three Catholic priests by unidentified suspects.
Lawmakers on Wednesday voiced concern over the idea of arming barangay captains, calling it “dangerous” and tantamount to creating more private armies.
Reps. Edgar Erice of Caloocan City, Tom Villarin of Akbayan Party-list and Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao rejected the President’s proposal.
“Arming barangay captains of the 40,000 barangays simply means creating a private army of political kingpins in cities, provinces, and municipalities,” Erice said. “It is a wild, wild west scenario.”
Even administration and Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting was wary of the President’s idea to arm barangay officials.
He said the carrying of firearms is a police function.
“The shooting event several months back involving barangay officials in Mandaluyong which resulted in a “misencounter” and the death of shooting victim who was being rushed to the hospital should give us pause,” Tambunting, chairman of the House committee on games and amusements, said. “The carrying of firearms is a police function. The police should not cede this right and responsibility so easily to barangay officials,” he added.
Villarin said the proposal of the President was dangerous.
“With loose guns already a big problem, allowing more firearms even if licensed would perpetuate a culture of violence and abuse of power by persons of authority of which punong barangays are considered as such,” said Villarin.
“Instead of being peaceful mediators, conciliators or arbitrators, you will turn them into armed enforcers or worst armed goons of politicians,” Villarin added.
Baguilat shared a similar view, saying “arming barangay officials will only lead to more abuse and violence.”
“They do not have the skill, orientation, and education. Their primary task in law enforcement is to act as monitors for the police, help enforce local ordinances and report the more serious crimes to capable law enforcer,” Baguilat said.
But Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela backed the President’s proposal so long as the barangay captains will be equipped with proper training.
Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said he is amenable to Duterte’s proposal to arm barangay captains to make them more effective as peacekeepers in the face of rising criminal activities.
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