WHEN is a person considered a criminal?

This was the question posed by Cebu City Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella on Mayor Tomas Osmeña’s pronouncement that he would give P50,000 in legal assistance to any member of the police force who kills a criminal in the line of duty.

In a privilege speech before the City Council yesterday, Labella said the mayor’s statement will only encourage others to act with impunity.

Although he does not oppose the plan, the vice mayor said the sanctity of life should be valued, adding that protection of life of all people is a legal obligation that public officials should follow.

“The inducement to give cash bounty for every death is but an invitation to perpetuate impunity and desensitizes the people from the idea that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law enshrined in the Bill of Rights. In considering public policy, we should not lose sight of the law that both permits and limits our actions. We should choose what is both practical and legal,” he said.

Labella, also a lawyer and former ombudsman, pointed out that President Duterte only allows policemen to employ deadly force when there is clear and present danger.

Labella cited Rule 8 of the 2013 Revised Philippine National Police Operational Procedures, which provide that the use of firearm is only justified if the offender poses imminent danger or causing death or injury to the police or other persons.

The vice mayor moved to remind police officers and law enforcers to strictly comply with procedural guidelines in apprehending offenders.

Osmeña had offered P50,000 in financial assistance to every policeman who kills a criminal in the city.

He clarified that it is not a reward, but a form of help to allow cops to defray expenses when they face charges in court.

Meanwhile, Supt. Reyman Tolentin, Police Regional Office 7 spokesperson, said that police officers will do their duty within the bounds of law, with or without financial assistance.

Tolentin said they do not shoot unless there is imminent danger.

“Just to have an award, the police will shoot someone dead? That’s a different story. We enforce the law with due observance of it and we act accordingly,” he said.

“We welcome the help that the mayor gives to us because that’s a big help for policemen facing cases. Some of our police officers don’t have the funds to pay for a lawyer to defend them,” Tolentin said.

He lauded Osmeña’s initiative, saying that it has boosted their moral.

However, he reiterated the police’s mandate to serve and protect life.

Earlier, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) 7 said that it would monitor the implementation of Osmeña’s pronouncement.

“Regardless of whether or not a financial grant will be given by anybody for the members of the law enforcement who can kill a suspect, such will be monitored and investigated by the CHR to ensure that no abuses in the implementation of laws,” said Atty. Arvin Odron, CHR 7 director.