Duterte plan to arm village chiefs comes under attack

President Rodrigo Duterte early this week said he ‘might consider’ arming village officials (‘barangay’) to help in the fight against illegal drugs and criminals. (Reuters)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Duterte plan to arm village chiefs comes under attack

  • Rodrigo Duterte: “I might consider arming you. I will ask the police and the intelligence community. If you are really into it, the crime, I will support you and may grant you permission to carry firearms.”
  • Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano said that arming village officials would create more problems than it would solve.

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte’s proposal to arm village chiefs could turn the country into a “killing field,” critics of the plan have warned.

Duterte early this week said he “might consider” arming village officials (“barangay”) to help in the fight against illegal drugs and criminals.

The Philippines’ Interior Ministry has given its backing to the plan.

“I might consider arming you. I will ask the police and the intelligence community. If you are really into it, the crime, I will support you and may grant you permission to carry firearms,” Duterte said in a speech to 2,854 newly elected village officials from Central Luzon on Tuesday.

The Philippine leader’s proposal drew mixed reactions, with some expressing support, while others voiced fears about community leaders being allowed to carry weapons.

Eduardo Ano, the interior and local government secretary officer-in-charge, said the idea would offer a form of self-protection for village officials.

In an email to Arab News, Ano said that arming village chiefs is a viable plan that depended on the gravity of the threat posed by lawless groups such as drug syndicates and terrorists.

“The chiefs are our first line of defense at the grassroots level. The need for urgent protection is imperative,” he said.

“Arming them would be more for self-defense since we have enough police to operate against lawless elements.”

According to Ano, village officials can buy their own guns legally and be granted weapons permits to defend themselves.

Philippines’ law provides that in the performance of his “peace and order” functions, a village chief “shall be entitled to possess and carry necessary firearm within his territorial jurisdiction subject to appropriate rules and regulations.”

Opposition lawmakers and and some members of the police force aired their concerns about the plan.

Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano said that arming village officials would create more problems than it would solve.

“This will have an effect of militarizing the whole country. The country would become a killing field,” he said.

Alejano said the government should focus on providing police force with proper equipment and training.

Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr. said village officials were not equipped to carry out law enforcement using guns.

“They don’t have the skill, orientation and education. Their primary task in law enforcement is to act as monitors for the police, help enforce local ordinances and report the more serious crimes to capable law enforcers,” he said.

“Arming village officials will only lead to more abuse and violence.”

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said arming village leaders was “a recipe for disaster.”

“With loose guns already a big problem, allowing more firearms — even if licensed — would perpetuate a culture of violence and abuse of power by persons of authority.

“Instead of being peaceful mediators, conciliators or arbitrators, you will turn them into armed enforcers or, even worse, armed goons of politicians,” he said.


Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

Updated 21 May 2019
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Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

  • The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims

DHAKA: As the clock strikes 6 p.m., Shudhhanondo Mohathero hurries to the kitchen to alert his army of 15 monks that they have less than 40 minutes until iftar. 

Soon, people will begin queuing outside the Dharmarajika Bouddha Bihar, a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka, where Mohathero hands out free food packs to fasting Muslims who are too poor to buy a meal to end their fast.

It is a tradition that 89-year-old Mohathero started 10 years ago when he assumed responsibility for the temple’s upkeep.

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” Mohathero told Arab News.

Built in 1951, the monastery, which is located in Basabo in the eastern part of Dhaka, has been involved in various social welfare activities. Since the start of Ramadan this year, almost 200 food packs have been doled out every day, with plans to double the number by the end of the month. The 15 monks who live in the monastery prepare the food boxes for iftar.

At a cost of around 80 cents, which is funded by the temple, each box contains traditional Bangladeshi iftar items such as puffed rice, boiled and seasoned chickpeas, jilapi (a deep-fried sweet pastry), beguni (deep-fried eggplant) and dal bora (a fried item with smashed lentils and dates).

“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” Mohathero said. 

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return.”

Shudhhanondo Mohathero, Chief monk of Dhaka’s Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims.

“I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily-wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” Asma Khatun, a local resident, said.

Another devotee, Sharif Hossain, said that iftar from the monastery “is like a divine blessing.”

“After losing all my properties in a river erosion, I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he said. 

Talking about his experience being part of a project that builds communal harmony, Prantar Borua, an apprentice monk at the temple, said: “We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing. It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.”

The monastery’s generosity has won praise from the Bangladesh authorities, too.

“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and interreligious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said.

“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land,” he added.