CEBU CITY, Philippines – For at least 3 days recently, reelectionist Mayor Tomas Osmeña documented and posted on social media a police checkpoint set up right outside his house in Barangay Guadalupe in Cebu City.
“I live on a side street in Guadalupe, but instead of securing something [like] the bus terminals, churches, or other high-traffic areas, PRO-7 has decided to send 10 police to make a ‘checkpoint’ right outside my house,” Osmeña said in a Facebook post on April 18, the first day the checkpoint was set up.
While Commission on Elections (Comelec) checkpoints are normally set up around cities and provinces during the election period, Osmeña pointed out two reasons why he believes this checkpoint was irregular:
“The main road is 100 meters away,” he pointed out.
“When I left earlier, they left. Now that I’m home, they’re back. Earlier today, my wife had to ask permission to enter our own house.” he said on April 18.
Central Visayas’ Police Chief Superintendent Debold Sinas denied there was anything irregular about the checkpoint.
“The checkpoint has been moved, it just so happened to be a part of Oplan Katok,” Sinas told reporters on Monday, April 22. “As to his claim, no comment, we are just doing our job. Ask the Comelec.”
Osmeña also claimed that police in military fatigues were allegedly standing outside the houses of barangay captains allied with his local party, Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan.
Osmeña made headlines early in his term in 2016 for his close coordination with police, offering rewards for officers who shot or killed suspected drug lords.
He was quoted in a SunStar report that year as saying, “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.” (READ: Cebu City: Mayor Osmeña, who 'inspired' vigilante killings, is back)
But he has had a falling out with the latest police chiefs assigned to secure Cebu City, the biggest metropolitan area outside of Manila.
Osmeña, who in the past worked closely with the police chiefs of the city and the region, told Rappler in October 2018, that the rise in killings in Cebu happened with the arrival of Sinas and new Cebu City Police Office Director Royina Garma. The new regional chief of police came on June 4; the city chief, on July 1.
Garma was previously a station commander in Davao City.
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“It definitely started when they came into the picture…. I look at them (cops) as part of the problem, not the solution, and they themselves are the suspects,” Osmeña said in an interview with Rappler last September 12.
In another post on April 18, Osmeña said the police were "harassing" barangay captains in the mountains and were "going house to house" in his running mate Mary Ann delos Santos' Barangay Lahug, allegedly with "no search warrants."
Delos Santos, who started her political career as captain of the most vote-rich barangay in the north district of Cebu City, described the incident as a “coward tactic strategy of campaigning.”
“Who is behind this blatant violation of privacy, entering homes without a search warrant in my neighborhood? No guns and no police abuse will keep me from shielding my constituents and supporters. Bullets will have to go through me first,” she added.
In his reelection bid, Mayor Osmeña is being challenged by Vice Mayor Edgar Labella, a lawyer and ex-Ombudsman graft investigator who is President Rodrigo Duterte’s bet.
On April 19, Labella also posted a photo of a checkpoint near his home in Barangay Mabolo. In an apparent reference to Osmeña’s checkpoint Facebook post, he said, “Tungod sa inyong (Because of your) presence, we all feel safer.”
He ended with the hashtag that reads, “Kung wala’y binoang, wala’y kahadlokan.” (If you’re not doing anything foolish, there’s nothing to fear.)
Labella’s running mate is former mayor Michael Rama, an archenemy of Osmeña.
Rama lost to Osmeña in 2016. – with Micole Gerard Tizon/Rappler.com