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Cebu City: Mayor Osmeña, who 'inspired' vigilante killings, is back

CEBU CITY, Philippines – Tomas "Tommy" Osmeña will soon be back at city hall, and with him is his reputation for having a tough stance on crime, just like Davao City Mayor and President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

It's just that the reputation might have escaped the attention of most people outside of Cebu. After all, Osmeña was mayor before social media became the convenient channel of gotchas and exposés: from 1988 to 1995, and again from 2001 to 2010.


According to local media reports at the time, the style of vigilante killings in Cebu were very similar to Davao's. Masked men on motorcycles would drive up to their target, usually someone with a criminal record, before shooting them and speeding away.

Sun.Star Cebu's tally showed that, between 2004 and 2006 in Cebu City, 168 people with criminal records were killed.

In the 2009 the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report – that which brought international attention to the summary executions of suspected criminals in Davao City – Cebu City under Osmeña was also included. In his watch, 202 vigilante-style killings happened in Cebu City.

When asked by the human rights group if he was responsible for the deaths of criminals in Cebu, Osmeña denied it, but admitted that he might have inspired the vigilantes: "I will say I inspired it. I don’t deny that."

A majority of these cases remained unsolved. He was never charged nor investigated for the killings.

Five weeks before he is even sworn in as mayor of Cebu City, Osmeña seemed to tell the incoming president, whom he calls his "friend," he's about to live up to the administration's policy of authorizing cops to just shoot to kill criminals.

Osmeña has announced a reward system for police officers who kill criminals. He said in a Sun.Star report“I have a general message for the police: if you kill a drug lord in the line of duty, you get P50,000, basta (for as long as it’s) legal or in the line of duty."


He has been dropping hints through his Facebook page, that although he has a month to go before he assumes office criminals should already be afraid. A very active social media user, he posted this meme: 

As early as October 2015, when he filed his certificate of candidacy, he told drug lords through the media: "Tiwason ta mo tanan (I'll get rid of you all)."

On May 13, police officer Adonis Dumpit was granted bail for his 2004 conviction of homicide after shooting dead a robbery suspect. He is suspected of being behind the deaths of people with criminal records in Cebu City – something he continues to deny – and Osmeña calls him his "poster boy" in the anti-crime campaign. 

Osmeña posted this message to Dumpit on Facebook. His approved bail petition also coincided with his birthday:

When Osmeña announced the reward for cops who kill criminals, he made this clarification through a Facebook post: "Offer limited to police operating in the line of duty or civillians with legal justification. No funny ideas ok?" 

This was a similar clarification that Duterte offered on May 16 when asked how he would legally justify the shoot-to-kill order against criminals.

On May 17, it looked like the police in Cebu City were one step ahead, when an off-duty police officer shot and almost killed two robbers in a jeepney terminal by the Ayala Center. 

Osmeña praised the police officers and posted this message to President-elect Duterte: "Duterte - 0; Osmeña - 1. Mr President, your turn, old friend." –

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.