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30 November 2020, by Norman Cabrera
This refers to an opinion article published on Rappler on 24 November 2020 and entitled “The silent epidemic stalking Filipino lawyers,” following a spate of killings of Judge Jeaneth Gaminde San Joaquin, Judge Teresa Abadilla and lawyer Eric Magcamit, and a retired Court of Appeals justice who had gone missing.
I commiserate with their families.
While indeed ‘No judge or lawyer should ever fear doing what they were sworn to do’ I beg to disagree that the challenge lies in ‘the leadership of the Bar to create those conditions.’ Well, maybe, if that leadership begins to look beyond their flock and realize that the issue isn’t just about them but the entire nation.
Many killings come our way and what have we gotten out of them? Nothing.
What significant safety steps have our public officials taken to address these tragedies and re-assess public safety in this country? Nothing.
Gunless Society and Kapatiran Party founder Nandy Pacheco has long been reminding us that the first and primary duty of government under the Constitution is to keep citizens safe from crime and to maintain order and peace. Order precedes peace. Without order, which these tragedies occurring literally daily manifest, how can there be peace?
Since 1989 the Gunless Society has been campaigning for a gun control legislation without any success.
In 1990-1991, it undertook a one million signature campaign to make it unlawful for anyone to carry guns and any instrument of violence in public places unless he or she is (1) authorized, (2) in uniform and (3) on duty. This ban would not apply to sportsmen or individuals who wish to keep guns in their clubs or homes. President Corazon Aquino certified as urgent the pertinent sponsored bill, which passed third reading in the Senate but was gunned down in the House of Representatives.
In December 2000, Pulse Asia survey showed 83% of all adult Filipinos favor a more restrictive gun policy, allowing only law enforcers and licensed private security guards who are properly authorized, in uniform and actually on duty to carry firearms in public places. The same survey revealed that only 16% support a law that liberally allows anybody with a licensed firearm to carry it wherever the owner may like.
In 2010, Kapatiran Party, through indirect initiative, filed in both Houses of Congress the same gun control bill called the Citizen Protection Act of 2010, which passing proved to be next to impossible due mainly to strong lobby from gun advocates and politicians themselves, most of whom are armed and with bodyguards.
To make matters worse, Congress passed and President Benigno Aquino III approved in 2013 R.A. No. 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act – an abomination, a gun proliferation law where gun ownership becomes a right, not a mere privilege; where enthusiasts and collectors may own up to an infinite number of weapons; where issuance of permits to carry goes on, where the use of a loose firearm, inherent in the commission of a crime, is still considered as an aggravating circumstance; and where commercial manufacture, trading and distribution of firearms are the norm.
The law came to pass despite another Pulse Asia survey in the same year where 67% of Filipinos surveyed consider guns and their proliferation to be a major cause of crime and violence in the country.
Majority of heinous crimes are committed with the use of firearms, which gun advocates argue do not often involve theirs that are licensed.
While they point their finger to illegal firearms, these are natural offshoot of the State’s policy and end up among criminal syndicates (big- and small-time alike), the New People’s Army, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front renegade groups and the Abu Sayyaf group.
We are around 100 million Filipinos. Take away the 205,000 PNP personnel, 125,000 active AFP personnel and 360,000 reserved personnel, that’s a total of 690,000 or 0.69% of the population. Double this to account for Filipinos with licensed firearms and permits to carry, and what do we have? Not even 2% of the entire population.
In sum, our public officials accommodate less than 1% at the expense of the 99%, who suffers from guns and their proliferation, and allot resources that could otherwise be better spent elsewhere despite government’s failure to control loose firearms.
For gun control to be effective, Gunless Society and Kapatiran Party recommend the following: For Congress to declare as contrary to public policy, public morals, public interest, good customs and the common good: the glorification of guns and violence in the movies, television, videograms, radio, print media, billboards, posters, and the exhibit or sale of guns and pro-gun stickers in public places; Increase the penalty for illegal possession to life imprisonment without parole; Relocate gun stores and gun shows in military or police camps; Disallow the obscuring of the windows of motor vehicles; Ban the manufacture, importation or sale of toy guns, air guns or replicas of guns; Mandate the inventory, destruction or melting down of all these guns for conversion to plowshares, manhole covers, etc. and give rewards to those who will surrender illegal guns and encourage the private sector to set up a Gun Amnesty Fund.
Our Asian neighbors (Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Hongkong) have achieved peace by controlling guns in their society. They cannot even have gun exhibits in public places. If they can survive and prosper without putting guns into the hands of their citizens, why can’t we?
Guns in this country don’t just kill lawyers, journalists but Filipinos and foreigners in general. They also kill the country’s standing and reputation. Each massacre, each killing undermines the Philippines in the eyes of the international community and acts as a serious disincentive for foreign investors. With more senseless burst of gunfires, the more dangerous and unreliable the Philippines will look in the eyes of the international community.
While the particular government office assigned for that task is the Philippine National Police, the crux of the matter lies in Congress. No society can prosper in an environment where public safety is in question. No business can prosper to its fullest and not many investors will be attracted to come to the country under our conditions. We, the locals, will continue to suffer. Indeed, order and peace are a condition precedent to development.
Is there a way out of the darkness? Where and how do we begin?