Several human rights groups in the Philippines have expressed alarm over the proposal of President Rodrigo Duterte to arm civilian anti-crime organizations.
Human rights group Karapatan described the proposal as “another attempt to infringe on people’s rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, warned that arming civilians would only “spell more human rights violations in context of the numerous reported cases of extrajudicial killings” in the country.
Former human rights commission chief, Loretta Ann Rosales, said it is “tantamount to the creation of massive private armies or militias in the cities.”
President Rodrigo Duterte last week told anti-crime volunteers that they could get guns so they could defend themselves while making a citizen’s arrest.
“If you are qualified, get a gun and help us enforce the laws,” the president addressed the National Coalition of Lingkod Bayan Advocacy Support Groups and Force Multipliers.
“The criminal must die, you must live,” said Duterte.
On Monday, the presidential palace said the president’s statement was not final.
“There is [no] policy yet. I’m sure it will be subjected to full staff work,” said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
The Commission on Human Rights, however, said arming civilians to fight crime is against the Philippine Constitution.
“The 1987 Constitution clearly articulates the government shall only maintain one police force, which is national in scope and civilian in character,” said lawyer Jacqueline Ann de Guia, the commission’s spokesperson.
“As such, the Philippine National Police remains as the constitutionally-recognized law enforcement arm of the government,” she added.
De Guia said arming civilians without proper training, qualification, and clear lines of accountabilities “may lead to lawlessness and proliferation of arms, which may further negatively impact the human rights situation in the country.”
Several legislators have also expressed opposition to the president’s proposal.
“How can we make those anticrime organizations, whose gun training is informal, liable if they get involved in crimes?” said Senator Risa Hontiveros.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said arming civilian volunteers was an admission of the government’s failure to provide security and protection to Filipinos.
“The proposal carries a high risk that guns may fall in the wrong hands and, therefore, only exacerbate criminality,” said Drilon in a statement.
“What can solve the country’s growing problems on criminality and its main drivers — poverty and hunger — is good governance not guns,” he added.
House deputy minority leader Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said arming civilians “will only make the streets more dangerous as this will usher a rise in extrajudicial killings and vigilantism.”
“We do not need more guns that pave the way to more vigilante and extrajudicial killings,” said House assistant minority leader Rep. France Castro. – with a report from Czarina Legisma