Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has considered giving free guns to 42,000 village leaders, known as barangay captains to reportedly aid them in fighting drugs and crime in their respective territories.
Duterte, who has vowed to end the Philippines’ drugs and crime problem within 3-6 months of his administration, will be marking his second year of administration by the end of June.
Also known as “Oplan Tokhang”, the supposed crackdown on illegal drugs has left anywhere from 3,967 to 20,322 dead as of November 2017 based on the government’s count.
“I might consider arming you if I think in my assessment and evaluation, at tatanungin ko ‘yung (and I will ask the) police and ‘yung (the) intelligence community. If you are really into it, (fighting) crime, I will support you. I will grant you possession and to carry your firearms,” Duterte told the community leaders last week, according to CNN.
According to Martin Dino, the interior department undersecretary responsible for barangays, the handguns would be provided for free, or their private purchases subsidized, to the leaders who are not among those involved in illegal drugs.
“The condition is that the barangay captain should fight drugs and crime. If he is conniving with criminals, he could be the one shot,” Dino was quoted by Reuters as saying.
In previous speeches, Duterte has repeatedly accused thousands of community officials to be involved in the drug trade with 200 of them named on his so-called “narco-list” back in May.
Duterte’s speech last week, however, indicated that he is willing to provide with these officials the same legal protection as soldiers or police, noting that they “will never go to jail” if they shot suspected criminals.
While Duterte’s drug war has gained widespread support from his voters, critics have long pointed out that the campaign overwhelmingly targets users and small-time peddlers in poor communities.
Activists and the political opposition have also accused the police of systematically executing suspects, who are often implicated by weak intelligence.