Editorial

Presidential miss

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President Aquino missed a golden opportunity to show to the public his heart is in the right place when he applied—and got—an exemption from the election gun ban. Amid calls for gun control, the Chief Executive defied public sentiment; and considering recent very controversial incidents of illegal discharge and shootouts, he has rubbed salt into the wounds of victims of gun violence and their kin. It’s either he does not feel the public pulse or if he does, he’s being insensitive. Alas, Filipinos may not have a President, but a Rambo!

The President and his mouthpieces may say that by choosing to apply for a Commission on Elections permit to carry a firearm during the election period, he set an example of good citizenship. In granting the exemption, the Comelec said that the President, being the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, is automatically allowed by law to carry firearms.

That may be so, but if the President meant to carry one for self-protection, doesn’t he have enough confidence in his own Presidential Security Group, perhaps the most advanced and best-equipped service in the Armed Forces and specially trained to protect the highest official of the land?

The election season has come at a very bad time for a test of presidential deportment. It has revived the specter of guns, goons and gold overwhelming again the body politic. Even worse for presidential conduct, the campaign season has been preceded by a spate of violence unprecedented in the annals of Philippine history since the Maguindanao massacre. The fact that the Maguindanao incident happened not too long ago should indicate the pervasiveness of gun-related violence in Philippine society.

Only last New Year’s Eve, 7-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella was killed by a stray bullet in Caloocan City. Another apparent victim of illegal discharge during the noisy and deadly New Year’s Eve revelry was 4-year-old Ranjilo Nemer of Mandaluyong City; he died from four gunshot wounds apparently from an accidental firing of a sumpak  (homemade gun). Ella’s and Nemer’s killers remain uncertain up to now, and it’s not farfetched that members of the PNP and military themselves are the culprits.

At least 40 stray-bullet victims were reported last New Year’s Eve in Metro Manila alone, magnifying perceptions of the trigger-happy ways of gun owners and law enforcers, their puffed-up sense of impunity and being above the law, feeling they can do with their guns as they please, never mind if they terrorize and maim innocent civilians—and kill children.

Appallingly enough, the gun-happy ways flew in the face of the wide international public outcry against the Colorado and Connecticut massacres in the United States. Those incidents have increased pressure on the American government to implement tighter gun control in the face of the gun industry’s and the National Rifle Association’s historically strong opposition. As of this writing, the US House of Representatives has warmed up to the idea, introducing a bill along that line, a sign of bipartisan sensitivity to public sentiment.

But in the Philippines, there has been no letup; things keep getting worse and worse. With the PNP still unable to yield results in the investigations behind the deaths of Ella and Nemer, came the bloody Jan. 6 Atimonan, Quezon, incident in which a PNP-military checkpoint opened fire at two sports utility vehicles, killing all 13 passengers, including a suspected “jueteng” lord. While the law enforcers involved have claimed the incident was a shootout, the evidence so far points to an ambush or, at least, a one-sided firing, with the PNP and military firing more than 400 rounds at the convoy.

Amid all of this, President Aquino is sticking to his guns. He has ceremoniously turned down calls for a “gunless society” amid calls by antigun advocates for gun control. Worse, he has applied and gotten a permit to carry a gun during the election season. If this is all about satisfying one’s hobby, the President, adhering to the legacies of his martyred father Ninoy and self-sacrificing mother Cory, could have made a small personal sacrifice of his own, in deference to the prevailing public sentiment and the call of the hour.

Sadly, a target-practice shooter, the President aimed way off the target on this one. He has missed wide and far. So much for his self-proclaimed marksmanship.

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