‘Respect life’

By: Jessa Mae O. Sotto, Jose Santino S. Bunachita, Nestle L. Semilla December 12,2017 - 11:01 PM

BLESSING. Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma tells Cebu City Mayor Tomas to value life. This after Osmeña announced he will give P50,000 in cash aid to the police every time they kill criminals. In this photo, Palma officiates the fiesta Mass at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City, on Dec. 12, 2017 .

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma has expressed concern over the decision of Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña to revive a controversial bounty system that would grant a police officer a financial assistance of P50,000 for every slain criminal.

Speaking to reporters, the 67-year-old prelate said killing a person is primarily wrong, and that there is a possibility that the strategy may lead to human rights abuses.

“In principle, the church is always concerned about anything that ends human life. For us, it is not the best approach because we always believe that even those who may have committed crimes still deserve a chance at life, and for them to renew themselves,” he said in an interview after he presided over the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Cebu City on Tuesday.

“Death, in general, is something we do not desire. We must respect human life and learn to value it as a way to revere Jesus who came to the world that we may have life,” he added.

Osmeña recently brought back a program that would grant P50,000 to any Cebu City policeman who can kill criminals, saying it is “necessary” if only to show his support in the war against all forms of criminality.

In the past, the aid was given only to policemen who were able to kill a drug suspect while conducting a legitimate anti-drug operation.

The reward, which he gave during the early part of his assumption as city mayor in 2016, used to be personally funded by Osmeña. This time, he said, the reward money would be taken from the city’s discretionary fund, which is P7.4 million this year and P7.8 million next year.

Osmeña said he could also use his own money to grant financial assistance to the police.

In a news conference on Monday, Osmeña explained that the money should not be called a reward but a kind of financial assistance for policemen who could face a string of cases for neutralizing suspected criminals.

He said some policemen were afraid to go after and shoot criminals even while performing their duty because they have no financial means to defend themselves in case they would be sued.

Rule of law

Palma, however, was not the only one who was concerned about the so-called financial assistance.

Cebu City Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella also opposed Osmeña’s program in giving cash assistance to policemen who kill criminals.

In a privilege speech during the City Council session on Tuesday, Labella, a lawyer and a former director of the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas, called on police officers and other law enforcement agencies to strictly follow the procedures in dealing with crime suspects.

“With due respect, this pronouncement from the honorable mayor pursues a cultivation of an environment where order is attained, not through the

means enshrined in our legal institutions, but through impunity and disregard on the sanctity of life,” he said in his privilege speech.

While he also wanted to put an end to criminality, Labella said it should be done within the bounds of the law.

Labella pointed out that there are certain guidelines before a police officer is allowed to use necessary and reasonable force.

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

Cash bounty perpetuates impunity

“This inducement to give a 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,” Labella said.

“This is not a zero-sum game of choosing only one option. Protection of the life of all people is never a choice but a legal obligation we, as public officers, must uphold,” he added.

The City Council approved Labella’s resolution to note his privilege speech and to remind police officers and law enforcement agencies to observe proper rules of engagement when dealing with suspected criminals.

Councilor Sisinio Andales, an ally of Osmeña, reacted to Labella’s speech by saying that the P50,000 would not be a cash bounty but just a legal assistance to police officers.

Osmeña earlier defended his plan, saying it does not promote violence and that the P50,000 financial assistance will just provide “peace of mind” to police officers for them not to worry about legal issues when they go after and eventually “neutralize” suspected criminals.

Morale booster

The Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), meanwhile, welcomed Osmeña’s move, saying it can boost their morale while they go after criminals.

Supt. Reyman Tolentin, information officer of PRO–7, said the financial assistance would be a big help to the police.

“This can help us a lot especially when we defend ourselves if complaints are filed against us,” he told reporters.

Tolentin said policemen do not have enough means to pay for lawyers to defend them before the Office of the Ombudsman or the courts.

“If Mayor Osmeña will continue his program for the police, we will not say no to it because that amount really helps,” he said.

Tolentin assured the public that the police will be responsible enough to do what they are supposed to do, and that they will follow the rules of engagement in dealing with suspected criminals.

“If you say that the police will just kill anyone just because of the money offered by the mayor, that is a different story. That does not even fall within our mandate,” he said.

Osmeña has known for his tough stance against criminals operating in Cebu City long before his current term of office.

In 2004, he created the so-called Hunters’ Team, a group of elite cops specially tasked to go after known criminals in order to suppress crime in the city.

From 2004 to August 2006, a total of 168 suspected or convicted criminals were shot dead by motorcycle-riding men in vigilante-style killings linked to what was widely believed as a death squad operating in Cebu City.

In mid-May 2016, soon after he won a new three-year term after a six-year hiatus as city mayor, Osmeña announced he would give financial assistance to policemen who could kill criminals.

The mayor had handed over to the police P625,000 before he withdrew the cash aid in July 2016 after the Philippine National Police (PNP) decided to reshuffle its police officers, including former Cebu City Police Office director Benjamin Santos.

For not supporting the programs of the city’s police, the National Police Commission (Napolcom) stripped Osmeña of his power and supervision over the local police in August 2016. He contested the order and declared that he wanted to get back his supervisory powers over the local police. His request was granted in September 2016.

Where the reward went

Osmeña had given financial assistance to the police for 12 slain suspected drug dealers who operated in the city.

On May 17, 2016, he awarded P20,000 to PO3 Julius Regis for arresting two alleged robbers who victimized passengers of a public utility jeepney.

Two days later, he gave P50,000 to the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operation Task Force for killing a drug pusher in a shootout in Barangay Sudlon 2; P155,000 to Senior

Insp. Henrix Bancoleta of the Central Visayas Regional Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force, who led the operation that resulted to the death of Rowen “Yawa” Secretaria, the third most wanted drug personality in Central Visayas, and his two cohorts, John Jason Montes and Dario Torremocha, on Banacon Island in Getafe, Bohol, last May 28, 2016.

The mayor also gave P100,000 to the police officers who killed Cebu’s top drug lord Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz and his bodyguard in Las Piñas City on June 17, 2016; P50,000 for the death of the alleged gunman in the ambush-slay of anti-drug crusader Crisostomo Maternal Jr.; and P200,000 given out for the killing of four suspected drug peddlers in Barangays Mambaling, Lahug and Bacayan. He gave another P50,000 for the death of a suspected drug pusher in Talamban.

Osmeña’s decision to reinstate his program for policemen came after President Rodrigo Duterte decided to allow the PNP to continue its anti-drugs operation last Dec. 5, 2017.

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