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Armed and dangerous: more civilians own guns than the military and police

Two out of every three legal arms currently in circulation in the Philippines are in civilian or private hands.

By GEMMA BAGAYAUA-MENDOZA


MANILA, Philippines — Gerardo Ortega, Venson Evangelista, Emerson Lozano: what do these three have in common?

They were all victims of crimes involving guns.

Ortega, a radio commentator in Palawan, was reportedly shot and killed by a lone gunman while he was shopping in a used-clothes store after his daily morning broadcast.

Evangelista and Lozano, both of whom were used-car dealers, were both kidnapped by carjackers at gunpoint and murdered. Evangelista’s charred remains were later found in an irrigation canal in Cabanatuan City. Lozano’s body, also burned, was dumped in Porac, Pampanga. Both dealers were found with gunshot wounds in their heads.

Shortly after the killings, an article posted on progun.ph, the official website of PROGUN, a local group of gun enthusiasts, urged shopkeepers, sales persons, and car dealers to keep pistols ready for protection.

Firearms seized by the PNP

“Whether or not these acts were serial killings, plain robbery, or thrill kills,” the author of the post argued that the incidents, “now serve to highlight the need for merchants and sales persons to protect themselves.”

Right to life

This reaction is expected. The key argument gun enthusiasts use to support their right to bear guns is the right to life.

Proponents argue that, because the police are unable to protect ordinary citizens from criminal elements, they need guns to protect themselves and their families. This is particularly true in areas where armed insurgencies still persistent. Those who don’t have guns feel vulnerable.

Given the perception of rising criminality, this type of reasoning is likely to gain more adherents.

Security analysts and experts, however, warn against taking this dangerous route.

The easy availability of guns, according to Ateneo de Manila University professor Jennifer Santiago Oreta, tends to increase the incidence of violence committed to the civilian population.

“Mere possession of a gun emboldens one to take drastic action,” she explains.

“Mere possession of a gun emboldens one to take drastic action.”

Santiago Oreta, who is with the political science department, has been studying gun proliferation in relation to private armies and has served as consultant to the Independent Commission to Investigate Private Armies, which was created by President Arroyo shortly after the infamous Maguindanao massacre.

The way things are, according to Santiago Oreta, there are too many guns in circulation in the country already.

In her study, “More Guns, More Risks,” Santiago Oreta  cites data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) showing that as of first semester of 2008, there were 1,081,074 licensed firearms in the country.

Half of these (517,341) are in the National Capital Region or NCR.

What is more interesting, according to her, is that only about a third (30.15 %) of all legal guns in circulation are in the hands of official state actors such as the police, military, deputized government employees/ officials, elected officials, reservist, and diplomatic corps combined.

Two out of every three (69.85 %) legal arms currently in circulation in the Philippines are in civilian or private hands.

High powered

Ideally, civilians should only be allowed to own low-caliber firearms. Establishments may be allowed to arm their guards with shotguns but not military-type assault rifles such as the ones found in the Ampatuan residences, says retired Gen. Edilberto Adan, a member of the commission.

In reality, this is not the case.

The range of weapons circulating in the country is also overwhelming, according to Santiago Oreta. These range from AK-47s, M-16s, M-14s, M-1s, .38 and .45 pistols and revolvers, paltik (locally-manufactured guns), rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), M-79s, PV-49s, landmines, machine guns (30/50/60), and 81mm mortars.

The Tavor assault rifle is popular in the market.

One particularly popular firearm in the market, at the moment, is the Tavor model, an Israeli made assault rifle that sells for around P450 thousand to P800 thousand, according to Adan.

Records obtained by Newsbreak from the PNP’s Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO) show that as of November 15, 2010, almost 47,000 of the 929,034 firearms licenses issued by the office covered high powered firearms.

Further, while the number of approved licenses for low powered firearms tends to fluctuate—tending to decrease during periods covered by election gun bans—the number of applications for licenses for high powered firearms has been rising steadily over the years.

Year Number of approved license applications for high powered firearms Number of approved license applications for low powered firearms
2006 1,724 59,679
2007 1,846 56,741
2008 2,205 102,897
2009 3,901 120,553
2010 4,569 77,509

Source:  Data culled by Newsbreak from  data on approved firearms licenses from 2006 to 2010 by region, type, and caliber obtained from the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office.

The number of licensed firearms reflected in the Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO) database as of November 15, 2010 is 929,O34.

Not all authorized firearms in circulation in the country, however, are in this database. Those purchased and issued by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to its officers, personnel and agents are not included.

Danger zone: loose firearms

More worrisome than the amount of guns reflected in the FEO database are those that are not, FEO’s Sonia Calixto says. “If it’s licensed, you won’t use it for crime because it will be traced to you.”

If guns follow the required supply chain, they are theoretically traceable from the time they are manufactured or imported until each transfer of ownership.

From the dealers, locally manufactured guns are brought to the PNP crime lab for ballistics.

After that, they are brought to the Firearms and Explosives Office for storage and recording. The dealer only requests for the guns when they are displayed or sold.

If a gun needs to be transferred to another dealer’s stockade (bodega), the dealer needs to request for a permit to transfer from the PNP FEO.

Imported guns are checked for proper Customs permits and then escorted to the crime lab for ballistics testing, then to the FEO for storage.

If a gun does not go through this procedure, it would be difficult for authorities to trace the firearms used in a crime to their owners.

There are still gaps in the system though. The PNP crime laboratory’s database of bullet samples taken from the ballistics testing of guns during licensing is not yet fully computerized.

This means that unless the actual firearm used in the crime has been recovered, there could be no way to trace it to the owner, whether the gun used is licensed, or not.

The database of bullet samples of licensed guns is not yet fully computerized making it difficult to trace guns used in crimes to their owners

Guns and crimes

PNP records show that the number of crimes committed using firearms is consistently rising.

In 2002, the Philippines ranked 5th globally, after South Africa, Colombia, Thailand and the United States, in terms of the number of murders committed using firearms, according to the 8th United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems.

Authorities say most of the guns used in committing crimes were loose firearms.

Year # of crime incidents involving firearms # of firearms used Firearms classified as
Licensed Loose
2008 3,303 3,489 16 3,473
2009 4,711 4,894 27 4,876
2010 5,779 6,075 40 6,035

Data culled by Newsbreak from records of  the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office on crimes involving firearms

As of 2008, the PNP reported that there were 482,162 loose firearms in the country. The data might even be understated, according to Santiago Oreta.  “There is no accurate estimate of illegal guns,” she says.

The PNP defines the number of loose firearms to include those that were previously licensed, hence reflected in its database, but whose licenses were not renewed after they expired.

The fact that the PNP was able to release an exact number, however, implies that this data actually represents the number of guns with expired licenses, according to Santiago Oreta.

Porous borders, largely unregulated by the government, allow a steady stream of smuggled firearms of all calibers and models to filter into the local market, security sector experts explain.

Illicit gun manufacture also thrives in such areas as Danao, Cebu, Santiago Oreta says in her study.

All these contribute to the public feeling of insecurity that drives more civilians to acquire guns, Santiago Oreta says. But it’s a vicious cycle, she warns.

While the possession of a gun can make its owner feel secure, Santiago Oreta points out that its proliferation can also make people feel more insecure.

It also compels the state to channel more funds for its military and police spending to combat lawlessness and violence—diverting funds from crucial services such as education, health care, infrastructure, and livelihood.

In turn, such “unmet human needs” can fuel criminality and armed hostilities that, ultimately, push state actors and ordinary people further into the race to acquire more guns. Newsbreak, independent journalism from the Philippines

Erratum: This story initially mistakenly stated that there were 1,103,616 loose firearms in 2008. This was actually the number of licensed firearms as of Oct 9, 2008. Our apologies for the error.

This series on the security sector is done in partnership with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

CATEGORY: Defense & Security
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  1. Rene Tababa says:

    When the law fails to protect its people, the citizenry invoke their right to self preservation, one of these, arm and protect themselves, in accordance with the law (get a license and permit to carry). Criminals seldom, if ever, submit themselves to the firearms licensing laws .

    Who wants to spend money for firearms instead of the necessities and luxuries of life, if not to protect dear
    life ?

    The police and the judicial system must do their duties, provide peace of mind, then the need for firearms will
    be redundant – people will instead pay taxes for the
    services that Government render to its people.

  2. Tony Pailan says:

    Until the law enforcement agencies that we have can guarantee that my wife living along with a househelp in our home will be guaranteed a safe neighborhood 24/7 then i would give up all my license firearms and to see to it that it would be properly disposed of.For a whole year round i was away to earn a living in a foreign land along with our only daughter.
    But please do not include us or generalized the legitimate gunowners as such a threat comparable to a known warlords as the Ampatuans.
    When on vacation i frequent the shooting range and target shoot with my friends same as when i’m playing tennis.
    I bet that no legitimate gun owner will acquire fire arms to use it to comit crimes and bad deeds.

  3. Michael Serrano says:

    This is our response to your “article”.
    http://progun.ph/content/armed-and-dangerous-who-are-they-really

    Regards,
    Responsible and Law Abiding Armed FiliPinoy

  4. Ramon Dela Cruz says:

    The average armed citizen is of no danger to society. In fact, the very groups that anti-gun advocates believe should be bestowed the exclusive privilege to carry firearms have, themselves, a traceable history of violence.

    Reporters Without Borders, The Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, The Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines and the US Department of State all agree that political and extrajudicial killings by members of the security services in the Philippines are of grave concern.

    The Maguindanao massacre is said to be the single worst mass killing of journalists in history. It was carried out by a political clan with the support of government security forces and officials. Neither sport shooters nor the average PTCFOR holder had anything to do with it.

    Responsible civilian firearms owners are an easy target because despite our skill in the use of a dangerous tool, we do not force our views on anyone else and are ironically quite powerless. Nevertheless, politicians and the media alike vilify us and paint us as violent, anti-social lunatics. The truth is that we are often better trained, better equipped and show more self-restraint than many of the so-called professionals. This is not to boast of our superiority but to highlight the sad state of affairs our country.

    The deaths of innocents should not be placed at the feet of ordinary citizen firearms owners. To do so would make a mockery of those who died and trivialize the true dangers in our country.

  5. noel ruiz says:

    just as the pnp said, those with criminal intent will never surrender their firearms. are those in the executive and legislative branches of government who push for firearms regulation already with existing pnp/private security protection or who do not walk the streets unprotected (but enjoy the comfort of their private vehicles). expensive (automatic, assault-type) firearms in excess of pesos 200k are only owned by the the upper class (who can afford to have those, and/or get the pnp/government to sanction the former to posses those), and not by the lower classes. absurd as it sounds, with so many police personnel committing crimes, why don’t we also disarm them? for example, the “ampatuan massacre” was perpetrated/tolerated by regular pnp/scaa who were “exempted” from the comelec gun ban-only pnp and afp personnel will carry firearms then comelec quickly added the caa’s to the list. marcos disarmed his political oposition by making gun possession a grave crime during each of the numerous coups in her administration, cory had pc chief montano suspend permits to carry firearms – save for the pcgg fiscal agents moving about with their government-issued firearms? ping lacson under erap’s administration tightened the issuance of gun permits but gave same to erap’s friends and cronies. gma’s officials suspended permits when rallies against her administration “led to the declaration of a state of emergency.” please tell me that it is not the policy of any party in power to use the firearms issue to only intimidate their respective opposition (national and local) as the criminals and those who possess loose firearms never really comply with any restriction.

  6. Dan Dioquino says:

    I do not expect this comment to published, as Ms. Gemma Mendoza has shown her biased views on Gun Ownership, and evils of it. The right to defend life carries a lot of debate both here and on the internet. But she lives in a world that putting one’s life in the hands of others, is the best tactic. She never shows any number of the number of PNP personnel vs. Firearms issued to them. And Gemma does not show any statistics to show how many lives or property were saved by the intervention on Armed Legal Gun Owners during Civil Disturbances. I disagree that “Gun Kill People”, as gun’s are are just tools. She did not cover other statistics on knife attacks, and their unregulate use, eventually promotes some violent crimes, like Visconde. I was told of a story were in in Ayala Alabang in 1986, when Fidel Ramos defected to Enrile Camp, his house was defended by residents F/A during the siege. I have had countless stories wherein during the 7 coups of Cory, most properties in Makati and Mandaluyong were not looted due to Armed citizens vigilance. I guess she may have an agenda, I wish she should bring it out in the open, like Nandy Pacheco………… so gunowners like can debate on her merits………….. SI VIS PACEM PARABELLUM!!! Dan D.
    PS
    I guess she never heard of Danao, where they have the small crime rate vs ratio of loose firearms- used an sold there. Maguindanao Massacre is a not statistical significant for annual Crime Stats, she only harps on it because Murder Stat is for Journalists…………….. Hey Gemma why don’t you post your data our Blogsite in PinoyGuns, you can make the most impact ???? Where you can find more learned, educated, professionals, even journalists. So that we can counter your perception on us gunowners as trigger happy-fools you take us for………… Dan D.

  7. Per your own report, you sighted PNP statistics that showed the total number of incidents involving firearms. In 2009, covering the period from January to September, of 4,711 incidents involving 4,894 firearms, only 0.55% or 27 cases involved licensed f/a’s and this probably include self defense cases. In 2010 covering the same period, of 5,779 incidents involving 6,035 f/a’s, only 0.66% or 40 were involved.

    The statistics, albeit, also include f/a’s used by the military/ex-military, police/ex-police, government auxiliary forces, etc., used in committing criminal acts. My point is, when reporting about f/a’s, it always appear that licensed gun owners need to get punished along with the bad guys, criminals, goons, warlords, etc., for wanting to protect themselves with LICENSED firearms.

    We licensed f/a holders have complied with all the necessary requirements before we got our f/a’s but another issue will again be thrown against us by anti guns saying how easy it is to get a licensed f/a if you have the means… this is not due to us LICENSED GUN OWNERS, it’s the PNP-FED who calls the shots when it comes to the processing of licenses.

    If they do their work properly then you solve one of the tiniest problem contributors to the proliferation of the guns in the country since the main contributor as it always have been is the rising criminality and sad to say, a big number of crimes nowadays are committed by the same people who are supposed to protect us. Solve crime and you take away one big reason why a lot of people want to protect themselves and their love ones with firearms.

  8. GEMMA BAGAYAUA-MENDOZA says:

    Hi, thanks for your comment.

    We do welcome feedback here at Newsbreak, be they negative or positive. In fact we reposted the statement posted on the Progun site in this website. Please check this link: http://www.newsbreak.ph/2011/01/31/progun-responds-to-%E2%80%9Carmed-and-the-dangerous%E2%80%9D/

    Also, the article never intended to portray legitimate gun owners as “trigger happy.” Our apologies if you got this wrong impression.

  9. GEMMA BAGAYAUA-MENDOZA says:

    Good day Jogon,

    Thanks for raising this point. This article, as the note at the bottom says, is part of series. The next installment takes up gaps in regulation.

  10. Josh Cofreros says:

    Your statistics show that at least 6,000 loose firearms were used in crimes agains 40 licensed ones, but you equate the rise of gun related crimes to legitemate gun owners. The statements of Santiago Oreta are purely academic and does not look at the issues through a microscope. By her statement “Mere possession of a gun emboldens one to take drastic action,” is only true if preservation of life is already threatened and no other recourse of escape can be done. Legal gun owners do not brandish their weapons to anyone just for ego, they have them for their own and family protection.

    And now we have this Bill No. 129 that prevents owning a firearm and only the police and law enforcement can do. When was the last time our PNP ever prevented a crime from happening? Most of the time they arrive after the crime has been done!

    I will give you an example of a real situation and not an opinionated macro-view point from anyone academic. A year ago some crazy nuthole tried to infiltrate and assault my father-in-law’s family. Together with my father-in-law, all of them were women and infants. When they called the police hotline, do you know what the other line said? “Tawagan niyo nalang kami uli pag bumalik ang suspect.” After my intervention after an hour the police still didn’t do anything and all I could do is file a blotter. And these are the people that I should rely on protecting my family?!?!? And they would just respond if someone is already in a body bag?!?!?! In the U.S. the police arrives on the scene at least five minutes even if it is just a neighbor’s squabble.

    You are a journalist and you should be able to report the true facts and not rely on biases from people who do not know the true state of most of our society is. You ask your sources if they live in areas where knives, sumplaks, tiradors, addicts, drunkards are prevalent… I really doubt it.

  11. Josh Cofreros says:

    Your article states that 6,075 guns are related to crimes but there are only 40 of those that are licensed, but why paint the picuture that even the legal gun owners are dangerous? Santiago Oreta’s views are purely academic and do not represent the microscope of what most of our society is today.

    For some reason my original comment was not posted so I’ll end this here.

  12. GEMMA BAGAYAUA-MENDOZA says:

    Hi Josh,

    There is a lag time between posting to publishing comments. You did not have to repost.

    The only comments we do not publish are those that use foul and offensive language and those that are totally unrelated to the topic at hand. Otherwise, if you notice, we encourage and publish even negative feedback.

  13. GEMMA BAGAYAUA-MENDOZA says:

    Josh, if you check, the article also points out that it is this gap in the law enforcement that is driving people to buy firearms. The point of the article is, this is an issue the police and government should look into and address.

  14. 99.34% of crimes involving firearms are from loose or unlicensed weapons. Perhaps it’s high time that the government create a process where it would be easier for its people to license and carry firearms, thereby decreasing the rate of crime committed with them.

    Would you use a firearm for a crime knowing that it can be traced to you?

  15. Dan Dioquino says:

    Hi Gemma,
    I beg to disagree that one your opinion that more guns in civilians will promote violence. All Gunowners are screened for Financial Capacity, Psychological Testing, SI CI Check, NBI Clearance, Brgy. Clearance, Character references…….
    Unless you can cite more scientific evidence that Legal Owners contribute to crime, then why don’t you demand that ALL PSYCHOLOGICAL testing be junked, because you feel it is not relevant indicator for Violent Behavior, when it is an accepted practice, in HR industry. (Ever heard of Myers-Briggs/Ink Blots?)
    Most of Gunowners, use Firearms for Protection_Self Preservation, not like us bloggers that are recreational shooters/ hunting, taking that away them, will be short telling them, “HEY JUNK YOUR FA, GEMM’s ARTICLE WILL COMFORT…..YOU WHEN ARE ARE THE RECEIVING END OF VIOLENCE/ DANGER.”

    PS
    BTW the rights to Self Preservation is in the Constitution/ Criminal Law.
    PS
    PNP Stat are too general, as crimes or cases against Civilian Fa Owners, are categorized under violation of FA-PTC, Gun Ban_checkpoint violations, and not direct result of criminal acts.
    Show your facts, and we will listen……..
    Check on Swiss Civilian Reservist, all of the citizens have SG 550 in their homes and 250 rounds, but they have lowest crime rate….please explain that ??
    Dan

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