In an attempt to decrease drugs and crime, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared that he will arm the public with free guns, as long as they use them to fight drugs and crime.
Duterte is prepared to hand out around 42,000 guns to community leaders, known as Barangay Captains.
— East Asia Group (@EastAsiaGroup) September 3, 2016
A Barangay Captain is the highest elected official in a Barangay, which is the smallest level of administrative divisions in the Philippines.
Handguns would be provided for free, or private purchases subsidized, but only for those not involved in illegal drugs, according to Martin Dino, the interior department undersecretary in charge of Barangays.
“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 said.
Last week, Duterte promised that Barangays will be provided with the same legal protection as soldiers or police, and they “will never go to jail” if they shoot suspected criminals in the performance of their duty, the New York Post reported.
Duterte was elected in May 2016 and has had a hardline approach to dealing with the war on crime and drugs.
Duterte launched his presidency by promising a six-month campaign that would kill 100,000 drug users.
So many bodies would be dumped in Manila Bay that the “fish will grow fat,” he had said, The Financial Times reported.
Duterte’s political opponents argue that his campaign targets users and small-time dealers in underprivileged communities.
Authorities say those allegations are false.
The association of Barangay officials fully supports the plan to arm civilians, said Edmund Abesamis, president of the association.
He said that without the firearms, Barangay Captains are fearful to report illegal drug activities, as they could become targeted by gangs.
Rise Up for Life and for Rights, an activist group, said the government is obsessed with instilling fear among communities, rather than tackling the root causes of drug addiction.
“Arming the Barangay Captains is another foolish approach that would create power play among local officers on the ground,” a spokeswoman for the group said.
Communities have seen enough “tyrannical and fascist attacks” during Duterte’s war on drugs, she added.