Joke only: A Llama is a handgun.
But a Llamas is an AK-47.
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Because of the AK-47 found in the vehicle of Presidential Political Adviser Ronald Llamas when it figured in an accident on Edsa (Llamas was away in Switzerland), the talk at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday centered on guns in the hands of civilians.
And the guests were all well qualified to talk about guns: brand-new PNP chief, Director General Nicanor Bartolome, Undersecretary Alexander Padilla, presidential adviser on the Peace Process and chairman of the Government Peace Negotiating Panel for talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF, and Nandy Pacheco, founder of Gunless Society which has long been waging a valiant, but a seemingly hopeless attempt to have strict gun control laws.
The Philippines is now number one in the world in the number of gun-related violence. The United States is only number two. Japan has the lowest gun-related crime rate.
The reason is obvious: Japan has strict gun control laws while the US, and the Philippines have very liberal ones. Because of the massacres and the very big number of crimes with the use of guns, the US population has been crying for stricter gun laws and Congress has been trying to enact them, but the National Rifle and Pistol Association (NRPA) has a strong lobby against laws that would curtail the right of citizens to bear arms which, they say, is guaranteed by the American Constitution.
The Philippine Constitution has no similar provision, but there is also a lobby against gun laws from gun clubs and gun dealers. And, surprisingly, also from some police officers.
Sometime ago, I was watching a television talk show about gun possession, and Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz Jr., PNP spokesman, spoke in favor of gun possession. I was surprised because policemen should be the first to oppose gun proliferation because it makes their jobs more difficult, but there he was saying that citizens have the right to bear arms, aping the American constitutional provision.
Because of the very liberal attitude of the police on gun possession in the Philippines, we have the Maguindanao massacre, a scorned wife shooting her husband dead in a shopping mall, and a jealous teenager shooting his boyfriend in another shopping mall, plus innumerable assassinations carried out by motorcycle-riding hitmen. And yet our Congress refuses to pass any effective gun control law although many NGOs like the Gunless Society have been pushing such measures in Congress. Why?
“Because the politicians themselves are the worst offenders,” said Nandy Pacheco. “Every pipsqueak politicians has an army of bodyguards armed with AK-47s, Uzis, Armalites and other long arms and handguns.”
Pacheco added that our death rate from guns will continue to soar for as long as we do not have the political will to curtail the carrying of guns in public places.
“Pro-gun groups say that guns do not kill people, only people do,” Pacheco said, “but I say that those people cannot kill so easily without guns.”
Far from the image produced by the name Gunless Society, this NGO does not propose to curtail the possession of guns. Citizens can still have guns at home for their protection. What it proposes is to limit the carrying of guns in public places to law enforcers and security guards in uniform. That way, anybody in civilian clothes carrying a gun can be accosted. “Most shootings are perpetrated by hitmen in civilian clothes,” Pacheco said.
Asked about his opinion, General Bartolome replied that the PNP also wants stricter gun laws but, at the moment, the police cannot do anything without any law backing it up.
As an example, he cited the case of a gang caught with a cache of guns, charged with illegal possession of firearms, and clamped in jail. But because the offense is bailable, the suspects posted bail and are now free again to do their thing. Bartolome wants an amendment to the law to make illegal possession of firearms non-bailable.
“Why don’t we use the gun laws of Japan as models for our own laws?” I asked. “Obviously, they are effective as Japan now has the lowest crime rate in the world.”
“We are doing that,” replied General Bartolome, “but it takes time.” Please General, don’t wait too long.
“What about the gun shows at shopping malls, why are they allowed? They whet the appetite of the population to have guns. You can even buy guns right there.”
Bartolome: “There is no law against gun shows in shopping malls. Much as we want to prevent them, we cannot do that without any law mandating us to do so.”
Talk shifted to the NPA raid on a mining camp in Surigao. What really happened there? the PNP chief was asked.
I appears that a battalion of soldiers in the area was pulled out for retraining, Bartolome explained. A new unit was sent to replace the battalion but it was a much smaller size. The rebels learned of this and took advantage of this oversight. About 300 NPA rebels torched the mining camp and its heavy equipment, causing losses in the hundreds of millions of pesos to the mining company. The reason: The mining company allegedly did not want to pay revolutionary taxes being exacted by the NPA.
The rebels stayed in the camp for three hours. Where were the soldiers and policemen during all that time?
Bartolome: They sent separate units to help but they were both ambushed by rebel blocking forces.
Undersecretary Padilla was asked if the Surigao raid affected the peace talks with the NPP/NPA/NDF.
“Not at all,” replied Padilla. “The peace talks continue. The raiders were more like bandits than rebels.”
Which has priority, the peace talks with the NPA or the talks with the MILF.
Padilla: “They both have priority.”