Philippine mayor offers bounties to police to kill criminals, raising fears of extra-judicial deaths under Duterte

Tomas Osmena speaks after handing over a reward money to a police officer at a reward ceremony rites in Cebu City, Philippines, on May 19, 2016.
Tomas Osmena speaks after handing over a reward money to a police officer at a reward ceremony rites in Cebu City, Philippines, on May 19, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (AFP) - The incoming mayor of a major Philippine city said on Friday (May 20) he was offering police bounties to kill criminals, deepening fears of extra-judicial deaths under the rule of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

Reports of another official forcing three children to walk through the streets with signs declaring they were drug traffickers added to the alarm of the authorities being incited to act outside of the law.

Mr Tomas Osmena, the incoming mayor of central Cebu city, told AFP he would pay the police 50,000 pesos (S$1,474) for each criminal they killed and 5,000 pesos for wounding them.

"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," Mr Osmena said by telephone.

"That is my purpose: to instil 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."

Mr Osmena's pledge comes after Mr Duterte, the longtime mayor of southern Davao city, won the May 9 presidential election in a landslide largely due to an incendiary law-and-order platform.

Mr Duterte pledged 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.

He also vowed to forget human rights and boasted that criminals would be butchered.

Since winning the election, Mr Duterte announced he would bring back the death penalty, with hanging his preferred method of execution.

Mr Duterte's law-and-order platform hypnotised millions of Filipinos hoping for quick solutions to the deep-rooted problems of crime and corruption.

However, human rights groups and other critics voiced alarm that a Duterte presidency would lead to a breakdown in the rule of law, with other politicians to follow his lead.

Asked for comment on Mr Osmena's bounties, Mr Duterte's spokesman denied the President-elect had ever encouraged bounties or any killings that broke the law.

"Maybe mayor Osmena is just joking, attempting a new gimmick so that his administration will be popular. To each his own," spokesman Salvador Panelo told AFP.

Mr Duterte has also been accused of running vigilante death squads in Davao that killed at least 1,000 people. He has variously denied and acknowledged links to them.

Mr Osmena, a member of a powerful family who has previously served several terms as Cebu mayor, said he would similarly tolerate vigilante groups.

"I'm not going to suppress vigilantes," said Mr Osmena, who like Duterte will assume his post on June 30.

"I'm focused on protecting the victims of criminals. You can protect the criminals if you want."

Mr Osmena said the bounties would not come from government funds, but would not disclose their source.

Mr Osmena already gave a reward this week of 20,000 pesos to a Cebu policeman who wounded two robbers in a gun battle, Superintendent Oscar Monteroyo of the Cebu police civil relations office told AFP.

The head of the government's Commission on Human Rights, Mr Chito Gascon, said fears Mr Duterte would incite the authorities to act outside the law appeared to be coming to fruition.

"Mayor and now president-elect Duterte has emboldened other local officials to look at other extraordinary measures," Mr Gascon told AFP.

Aside from Mr Osmena, he said another example was a mayor of town near Manila who had this week forced seven suspects, including three children, to walk through town with signs saying: "I am a drug pusher, do not follow my example."

Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia, Mr Phelim Kline, expressed similar concerns about Duterte's campaign vows of bloodshed.

"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," Mr Kline said.