NEWLY elected Mayor Tomas Osmeña of Cebu City said Friday he is offering to pay police a bounty of P50,000 for every criminal they kill, deepening concerns of summary executions under the incoming Duterte administration.
“If you kill a criminal in the line of duty, [you’ll be rewarded], no questions asked. I’m there to assist the police, not to prosecute them,” Osmeña told the Agence France-Presse on the phone.
“That is my purpose: to instill fear in the criminals. If they want to commit crimes, they get into war with me. I will see to it that they will be casualties.”
He said he would also offer P5,000 for each wounded criminal.
Asked if such rewards might encourage vigilante killings, Osmeña said: “I’m not going to suppress vigilantes.”
Osmeña’s pledge comes after Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte won the May 9 presidential elections in a landslide largely due to a controversial law-and-order platform headlined by a vow to kill tens of thousands of criminals.
Duterte vowed during the campaign to wipe out crime within six months by unleashing security forces with shoot-to-kill orders.
He said 100,000 criminals would die in his crackdown, and that so many bodies would be dumped in Manila Bay that the fish there would grow fat from feeding on them.
Since winning the election, Duterte also said he would bring back the death penalty, with hanging as his preferred method of execution.
Asked if he was following Duterte’s example, Osmeña, a member of a powerful family and a former Cebu mayor, said: “I’m not encouraged by him. But I think he is doing the right thing.”
Osmeña said the bounties would not come from government funds but would not disclose their source.
Osmeña already gave a reward this week of P20,000 to a Cebu policeman who wounded two robbers in a gun battle, Supt. Oscar Monteroyo of the Cebu police civil relations office said.
Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said the incoming president would not allow extra-judicial killings, though he declined to condemn the bounties.
“Maybe mayor Osmeña is just joking, attempting a new gimmick so that his administration will be popular. To each his own,” Panelo said.
Investigators looking into the Davao Death Squad that has been linked to Duterte have been stymied after the witness against him left the witness protection program.
“There is really nothing there anymore,” Justice Secretary Emmanuel Caparas said, in an inteview.
The Death Squad, a vigilante group based in Davao, has been implicated in the summary execution of some 1,020 to 1,040 people between 1998 to 2008.
Caparas said he tried to look into the identity of the witness, purportedly a member of the group, but could not find the witness.
He said a person’s entry and exit from the witness protection program is voluntary.
In April, Caparas assured the public that investigations on the infamous vigilante group were still “taking place” and that the National Bureau of Investigation was taking the matter seriously.
“It was brought to [our] attention last year. It remains on the radar. There are agencies actively looking at that,” Caparas said last month.
Senator-elect Leila De Lima, who was still Justice secretary at the time, said the government had a witness to pin Duterte to the Death Squad.
She said the witness was the basis of the NBI’s case buildup against Duterte, whom she had described as “annoying and definitely disturbing.”
The former Justice secretary noted that Duterte was a popular public servant, but warned people against idolizing him.
Human Rights Watch on Friday said Osmeña’s constituted a de facto support for extra-judicial executions and noted that the mayor had “a troubling history of exhorting summary killings of criminal suspects.”
During his previous stint as Cebu mayor, Osmeña told police: “Go ahead, pull the trigger. As mayor, my warning to anybody doing a crime is I will see to it that you’ll be dead on the spot. If we catch you, you will be so sorry—you won’t be around.”
Phelim Kine, deputy director for the group’s Asia division, said the Davao City model of targeted killings as a crime-fighting strategy appears to have spread to other cities in the Philippines including Toledo, Carcar, and Tagum City.
“That rhetoric lends a dangerous credence to a widely held view in the Philippines that only tough-guy, ‘Dirty Harry’ approaches can remedy the country’s crime problem. But providing financial incentives for police to kill criminal suspects is merely a repugnant attempt to legitimize the secretive death squads. Filipinos, who over the years have made great sacrifices for accountability and the rule of law, should resist these moves by their politicians,” Kine said.
Also on Friday, Amnesty International criticized Duterte’s plan to reimpose the death penalty.
“What kind of face are we going to show to the rest of the world, having promised at a certain point that we will commit to the revocation of the death penalty? Here comes a new leader who will reimpose the death penalty just because he wants to curb criminality in the country,” Amnesty International vice chairperson Romeo Cabarde said.
“We are appreciated globally because we are the first country in Asia to outlaw the death penalty,” Cabarde said. “Reviving it means there are serious commitments that we are abandoning internationally.”
“It would be a shame on the Philippines,” he added.
The death penalty in the Philippines was abolished under former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2006 with the signing of Republic Act 9346 or An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines.
Cabarde said contrary to Duterte’s claims, numerous studies have shown that the death penalty has not been a successful deterrent against crime. – AFP, Rey E. Requejo and Sandy Araneta