If there is any local politician who has managed to court controversy for the alleged presence of vigilante groups in his turf other than Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, it is Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña. He admits there are such groups in his area of responsibility, but says “that’s the way it is” and says he “cannot” take a “stronger stance” against them. His critics, though, think he can and should do otherwise.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
If there is any local politician who has managed to court controversy for the alleged presence of vigilante groups in his turf other than Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, it is Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña –- a brother of Sen. Sergio Osmeña III.
Taxi drivers, whose vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Cebu City, are wont to talk about these vigilante groups –- among other things –- when they sense their passengers are new in the place. One of them even told this writer stories about convicts about to be released from jail after serving their term, who beg to be allowed to remain in prison lest the vigilantes go after their heads when they get out.
In a recent interview with Bulatlat, Osmeña admitted that there are indeed vigilante groups in Cebu City. By his own account, these vigilante groups killed some 170 persons last year. Most of the victims, he said, were suspected criminals.
“It’s an issue against me,” Osmeña admitted, as he acknowledged having come under fire from human rights organizations and lawyers’ groups on this issue.
The Cebu City mayor said he started getting flak on the issue of vigilantism in Cebu City the other year, when he rewarded a man who shot a robber after witnessing the crime. While driving his car, the man, he said, saw someone rob and shoot a security guard inside a jeepney he had been following. Osmeña said the robber was laughing as he went down from the jeepney a few minutes later. The man who had seen it all was armed and he opened his window and shot the robber –- and he didn’t surrender to the police.
“I told them, ‘You find that guy and I’ll give him a reward,’ and they did find him and I did give him a reward,” Osmeña said.
The Cebu City mayor, however, also expressed “regret” that these vigilante groups operate with “some consent” from his constituency.
“They get considerable support from the people, that’s the problem,” he said. “That’s because the people are losing confidence in the justice system. When they see that the fiscals and judges are corrupt; when they see drug lords, after being arrested with a kilo of shabu, get released on bail when they should get the death penalty –- you know, these are situations when people see criminals being shot dead they think, well, that’s his problem.”
Osmeña would not give figures on the crime rate in Cebu City even when asked. He did tell this writer something, however, that points to high criminal activity in the place. “There’s no one in Cebu who does not have a relative or does not know someone who has been a victim of crime,” he said.
On taking a strong stand on vigilantism
The Cebu City mayor admitted he has been under pressure to “take a strong stand” against the presence of vigilante groups in his turf. “But I do not want to give an assurance to criminals that it’s safe here, because many of them left Cebu,” he said.
He has many critics, though, who think he can –- and should –- do otherwise. They say that leaving vigilantes to act on the problem of criminality has implications on human rights.
Osmeña has defended what his critics describe as his “inaction” in the face of these killings, saying the vigilante groups help in reducing crime in Cebu City.
“If vigilantism is the way to solve the problem of crime, we might as well do away with the justice system,” said Bro. Jun Jardinico, a member of the Franciscan Friars of Charity, in a separate interview. “How can you solve crime by committing another crime?”
“If our justice system is turning out to be inutile, it is perhaps time for the people to think about what has to be done with it and with our government,” added Jardinico, who is also the deputy secretary-general of Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) in Central Visayas.
Osmeña acknowledges the Cebu City chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) as among his strongest critics on the issue of killings by vigilantes.
Right to life
In a separate interview with Bulatlat, lawyer Alfonso “Poch” Cinco IV, who is with the IBP-Cebu City, said the killings perpetrated by vigilantes are violations of the people’s right to life.
“They may say the victim is a snatcher and a thief, but that is still not reason enough to kill him,” said Cinco, who is also chairman of Karapatan-Cebu. “That is taking a life without due process of law.”
The right to life is one of the basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution, particularly in Art. III, Sec. 1 which states that:
No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.
It is also provided for by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), to which the Philippine government is a signatory. “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” states Article 3 of the UDHR.
Osmeña has hit back at the IBP-Cebu City for criticizing him on the issue of killings by vigilantes. “Is the IBP really interested in human rights, or are they concerned about the loss of their clients? Because while they defend innocent people, they also defend some guilty people,” he said in his interview with Bulatlat.
This does not sit well with Cinco. He said lawyers are under oath to provide legal assistance to anyone –- be they criminals or not, moneyed or not –- who encounters legal problems or conflicts.
Cinco further said that the position of the IBP is anchored on the existence of laws, a police force, and a government. He said that the police should investigate criminal cases and file appropriate charges against the suspects –- who, he said, should be jailed if found guilty in court.
“What the vigilantes are doing is to just kill suspected criminals, which is not good and which is a violation of our laws,” he pointed out, “The point is, we all have rights –- whether we are criminals or not. That’s in the Constitution.”
Osmeña said that he also sees the presence of vigilante groups in Cebu City as something he cannot be proud of. “It’s basically wrong,” he admitted. Bulatlat