Guns and domestic violence | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Guns and domestic violence

Leading the news on the first days of the New Year was the item about a former seaman working as a messenger for a government agency who shot dead his wife, mother-in-law and sister-in-law, and wounded the sister-in-law’s American fiancé.

The TV news shows and even newspapers chose to highlight the angle about the man’s claim that he was prompted to shoot the victims after his repeated requests for “pulutan” or drinking snacks were ignored by his wife who continued working on a computer. (There were no indications if she was playing “Angry Birds” or not.)

Arrested by police after a manhunt, Ronald Cruz, 37, admitted that he and his wife Gina had been having difficulties in their relationship, and that he had been drunk when he came home, demanding food so he could continue his drinking spree. Angered when Gina chose to ignore his demands, Ronald went for a pistol he kept in the house and shot Gina in the head. The other relatives had tried to stop him when he brandished the pistol, so he shot them, too.

In a TV interview, Gina’s brother admitted they had long known of the violent relationship and that Ronald kept a gun in the house. “But I never realized he would use the gun on his wife and my relatives,” the man tearfully confessed.


This is not the first time domestic violence has reared its ugly head, resulting in fatal shootings and making it to the headlines. Last October, Talisay City in Cebu was thrown into an uproar when Emmanuel Ponce, 55, shot dead his wife Melinda, their three adult children and a helper. Ponce spared his youngest child, Embrelaince, 14, telling her to call the police. While the child was away, Ponce shot himself.

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As in the case of Cruz, neighbors and family had long known of the violence in the Ponce household. Ponce used to work as a seaman but appeared to be jobless after he stopped working on ships. There was also speculation that Ponce was mentally troubled.

His wife Melinda, on the other hand, was quite accomplished, being a bank manager, and had lately taken an interest in running, taking part in several marathons in Cebu. Relatives and neighbors related that when they asked Melinda why she tolerated her husband’s violence, she would simply reply that she could handle the situation and take care of herself and her children. She was ultimately proven wrong.


Laws have been passed criminalizing domestic violence and expanding its definition from just physical harm to cover emotional and even financial abuse. Sensitivity and awareness training sessions have been conducted among law enforcers, health personnel, social workers, prosecutors and even judges. Women’s and children’s desks have been set up in public hospitals and police stations to better investigate and respond to the oft-hidden and trivialized crime. And yet, horrendous killings such as those in the Cruz and Ponce households still take place, largely because the “warning signs,” the simmering violence within the marriage and among the family, were ignored by observers or else passed off as “private” and “bearable.”

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There are many lessons to draw from the shootings in Tondo and in Talisay City, and in many other places where similar events have not drawn spectacular headlines.

One is of course the dangers inherent in keeping guns at home. A violent person always presents a risk to other members of the household. But when he (or she) turns violent, the most damage inflicted is perhaps a beating or stabbing. A gun though expands the threat exponentially, and even uninvolved bystanders can end up fatally wounded. Many were outraged by reports of the shooting of a young teenager inside a mall by another teenager, and there were even suggestions made to hold the parents of the gun wielder (who subsequently committed suicide) responsible. If they had not kept a gun at home and accessible to their son, they argued, then he would not have been able to kill the other boy.

But a gun at home also presents a threat even to family members with no violent intentions, except perhaps to themselves. Suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot is said to be the “method of choice” among men. And no matter how securely kept and hidden from view, a gun in the house serves as a tempting option. Mental health authorities say that the clinically depressed think often and hard about taking their lives, and that suicide is in fact a sign that the terrible dark cloud of depression is beginning to lift, enough to allow the sufferer to take action. Having a gun within reach increases the risk of succeeding.

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Another lesson that comes to mind is that domestic violence, no matter how “benign” it seems in the beginning, escalates to often unimaginable levels.

Neighbors and relatives will often caution “patience” and even “prayer” to one suffering physical or mental abuse. Even children who witness beatings and harassment will beg the abused parent to bear with the suffering, for the sake of preserving family unity.

One wonders what would have happened if friends, family and neighbors of Gina Cruz or Melinda Ponce had taken action early enough, urging the women to seek counseling or else escape from the untenable situation at home. Or else if any of the neighbors, overhearing violent arguments or ominous thuds and beatings, had called the police, alerting them to the dangerous situation in both households.

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Would Gina or Melinda have accepted their advice and acted to protect themselves and their children? Would they have used the presence of police to escape their abusive husbands and save their children? Sometimes, the greatest danger arises from the victims’ own sense of pride and ability to bear the greatest suffering.

TAGS: crimes, domestic violence, featured columns, guns, Mental Health, opinion

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