The Philippines has vowed to give free guns to members of the public — so long as they promise to use them to fight drugs and crime.
President Rodrigo Duterte said he’s considering arming 42,000 community leaders, known as barangay captains, after consulting with the police and intelligence agency.
Martin Dino, the interior department undersecretary responsible for barangays, said handguns would be provided for free, or private purchases subsidized, but only for those not involved in illegal drugs.
Dino said: “The condition is that the barangay captain should fight drugs and crime. If he is conniving with criminals, he could be the one shot.”
Duterte has repeatedly said thousands of community officials were involved in the trade, without elaborating.
But last week he vowed barangays will be provided with the same legal protection as soldiers or police and they “will never go to jail” if they shot suspected criminals in the performance of their duty.
The president’s signature war on crime and drugs has killed thousands of people and caused international alarm.
Activists and Duterte’s political opponents say the campaign is overwhelmingly targeting users and small-time peddlers in poor communities and accuse police of systematically executing suspects, often based on weak intelligence.
The authorities reject that and say all those killed were drug dealers who put up violent resistance and left police with no choice but to shoot them.
The plan to arm civilians is supported by the association of barangay officials, according to its president, Edmund Abesamis.
Barangay captains without firearms were reluctant to report illegal drug activities, for fear of being targeted by gangs, he told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.
But activist group Rise Up for Life and for Rights said the government was obsessed with instilling fear among communities, rather than tackling the root causes of drug addiction.
A spokeswoman for the group said: “Arming the barangay captains is another foolish approach that would create power play among local officers on the ground.”
She added that communities had seen enough “tyrannical and fascist attacks” during Duterte’s war on drugs.