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The guns of 1924

The late Aquilino Pimentel Jr. once related how he accompanied a group of Mindanao warlords to Malacañang for a symbolic surrender to the government through then President Corazon Aquino. When media was called in for the photo-op, someone suggested that one of the warlords turn over a weapon to Cory. The guests had been divested of their firearms and bladed weapons at the gate, and the press was disappointed. Then, the man closest to Cory enthusiastically reached into his pocket and said: “I have a gun here for the photo-op.” What did the Presidential Security Group commander feel at that point?

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In 1924, a Free Press reporter overheard a colleague saying, “If you want to see a fine collection of revolvers, go to the session hall of the House of Representatives.” An informal survey by reporters revealed that most of the representatives came armed to the session hall. A minority declared it was beneath their dignity to carry a gun to Congress, but they admitted having guns at home, and the necessary licenses to bear them. Only five admitted having neither guns nor licenses: Representatives Lozano (Iloilo), Melendres (Rizal), Aldea (Capiz), Asanza (Samar), and Fernandez (Palawan).

About 20 percent of the representatives admitted having more than one gun—some claimed three! Weapon of choice was the Colt six-shooter .35 caliber, but about 40 percent preferred the smaller Colt automatic. Age and sophistication was reflected in the choice of gun. Senior representatives preferred small guns, like the .22 caliber that could be mistaken for a toy. And being “toys for the big boys,” some had theirs customized and ornamented with mother-of-pearl handles. Younger representatives were more showy and “prefer the .45 caliber, which bulks large in the hip pocket and dangles as one makes his representatorial entrance into the session hall.” That says a lot about penis envy or compensating for inadequacies real or imagined. Democratas were in the minority and almost all of them carried big caliber guns to make up with size what they lacked in numbers. Rep. Espiritu of Cavite, however, countered this idea by stating: “We Democratas do not have any use for revolvers in repelling aggression against us by the Majority party in the House. For me, this cane I am carrying is enough protection.”

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I wouldn’t be surprised if this cane concealed a blade within, like the one of kamagong with carabao horn ornamentation proudly shown me by the nationalist historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo. When I asked about the tense atmosphere in the UP Department of History in his time that drove the mild-mannered Serafin Quiason Jr. (later National Library director) to keep a steel tube in his desk under old newspapers, Agoncillo brandished the hidden blade in his cane and declared: “Huwag silang magkakamali!”[Don’t make the mistake of crossing me!] I didn’t press him for details.

Going back to the Guns of 1924 as reported in the Free Press, Rep. Fernandez (Palawan) said he had neither gun nor cane. “My two arms are strong enough to protect me from any aggression,” he said, “that’s why I never care to wear a revolver.” Rep. Vicente Sotto (Cebu) disagreed, the grandfather of current Senate President and vice presidential candidate Tito Sotto, was reputed to “sleep with his gun.” Sotto defended his gun-carrying colleagues, saying:

“I see nothing wrong about carrying a gun. In the United States, every congressman has his revolver. I am an advocate of the free use of arms so that the weak may have some personal protection. Suppose a man has had no physical training, does not know how to box and cannot defend himself with his fists. In order to repel a possible attack, he should have a revolver.”

Rep. Lozano (Iloilo) said, “If those Representatives fear for their safety from the community that they pretend to represent in this House, they are not fit to become representatives.” Rep. Rafols (Cebu) had the last word: “Caramba! What is the use of carrying a gun in the session hall? We are not at war!”

We are currently under an election gun ban and reading about guns in Congress almost a century ago reminds me that congressmen today don’t need to bear arms, they have bodyguards who do. One wonders how much has changed or remained unchanged in terms of mindsets.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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