SHORTLY after he won the May 2016 elections, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña offered to pay in cash P50,000 for each criminal killed and P5,000 for each criminal wounded by city police. He had reportedly paid out P625,000 until he stopped the bounty program in July because of a “misunderstanding” with top PNP officials.
This week, Mayor Osmeña announced the same attraction but only for criminals killed: still P50,000 per head.
The first didn’t create a firestorm; the second has. Maybe the conditions then and now will help explain.
Fund source, climate
Under the early 2016 deal, the money didn’t come from the city government, Tomas didn’t reveal the source, only the assurance it was not City Hall money. This time, he will pay from the P7.4 million mayor’s discretionary fund.
In the few months following the last election, mayors were scrambling to please President Duterte who ran and won on a platform whose main plank was to eliminate illegal drugs from the face of the nation. Campaign talk was mostly about bloodbath on the streets, desensitizing a public to the prospect of widespread violence.
That was then; not now, when there has been increasing disapproval, here and in the international community, on the rash of killings in the anti-illegal drugs campaign. No Commission on Human Rights official spoke out to question Mayor Osmeña in 2016. CHR, fueled by the rise of public support, now publicly calls out the same proposal, saying it could lead to abuses. Team Rama lawmakers in the City Council, led by Vice Mayor Edgar Labella, harp on the danger of a new upsurge of unlawful killings.
In early 2016, flushed with post-victory hubris, Mayor Tomas said he didn’t care if the bounty would lead to vigilantism. Not this time when he strongly denies the money is a reward. It’s assistance, he insists.
It will incite violence, his critics say. Twisted logic, he retorts. Police carry guns, the mayor argues, a practice that will lead to violence, so we disarm them?
How can gun-toting by police while on duty be compared to huge cash prize being dangled before their eyes? Can you appreciate the parallelism?
Allocation of money
The intention may be well-placed but not the allocation of the money. If City Hall wants to help the police in legal distress, it can set up a fund to pay for legal expenses: a common pool whose spending will not be pegged at P50,000 per dead criminal but on the nature and merit of each case.
So as to discourage salvaging or execution, the killing must be in accordance with the PNP manual of operation and will qualify as self-defense or defense of relatives under the Revised Penal Code. The fund must inspire the cop to be courageous without fear of being abandoned by the government afterwards. Provide the assurance in the form of competent legal services, not cash that may be spent for unintended purposes.
Or they could just drop the pretense and call it what it is: bounty money, which the killer or his family, like in the U.S. Wild West, could collect upon proof of death of the criminal.
And what if the victim is not a criminal, just a suspect or even an innocent bystander?