Rodrigo Duterte’s proposal for civilians to arm themselves and help the police enforce laws is a stupid idea.
Gun violence will probably increase, bringing the country back to pre-martial law days when civilians toting guns roamed the streets outside the capital, a la wild, wild west.
Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in September 1972 to arrest lawlessness, ordering the military and police to collect unlicensed weapons from civilians.
But Marcos did not succeed in seizing guns from civilians as the number of loose firearms ballooned to more than what security forces had combined.
At that time, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which included the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police (PC-INP), numbered only 150,000.
Based on official government estimates at that time, the number of loose firearms held by unauthorized civilians could be five times more than those in the hands of Maoist-led guerrillas and Muslim separatist rebels.
Up to this day, the government has not collected all loose firearms, which are used in criminal activities or are given to private armies harassing ordinary citizens.
Some of these small arms have found their way into the hands of “killers” of thousands of street-level drug peddlers and users.
In the south, where guns are a symbol of wealth and power, warlords do not possess small arms, like assault rifles and handguns.
They have crew-served weapons, like 60mm and 30mm mortars, .50 caliber machine guns, sniper rifles, 40mm rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and 90mm recoilless rifles. They even have improvised armored vehicles.
There was a joke back in the early 2000 when the Ampatuan clan was still in power in Maguindanao that it had a much larger armory than the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Awang, outside Cotabato City.
True enough, when Gloria Arroyo imposed martial law in the province after the massacre of 58 people, including 33 media workers, in November 2009, the army had collected firepower enough to arm a brigade-sized army unit.
One of the mortars recovered from the Ampatuans turned out to have been donated by the United States government to the Philippine military.
During the five-month conflict in Marawi in 2017, the military was surprised to learn that pro-Islamic State militants kept a weapons cache in the city big enough to last that long in urban warfare.
The Philippines has a long history of gun violence, especially during an election period. Elected officials, bureaucrats, candidates, supporters and ordinary civilians have fallen victims to gun violence, although the number of casualties has declined in recent years.
But in the 1990s, two warring families in Sulu exchanged mortar shelling during a local election as soldiers and police watched from the sides to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.
There was also a time in the 1980s when assault rifles and handguns were a common sight in Cotabato City and one could not tell soldiers and police from paramilitary members, rebels, and ordinary civilians.
After Marcos lifted martial law in 1981, there were efforts to collect loose firearms in the hands of rebels, offering a cash-for-guns scheme under a “Balik-Baril” program for those who turned themselves in.
A gun amnesty program was also implemented to convince local officials, businessmen, gun club members and civilians to legalize gun ownership. The police have been keeping a database to track gun licenses and permits for people who are allowed to carry guns outside their homes.
But the government’s gun control measures are not really working as more sophisticated and more advanced weapons are smuggled into the country.
There are also “paltik” or illegal gunsmiths operating in the south, capable of making all kinds of weapons, including a .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifle.
The Philippines, a country that has a gun culture, has a big problem controlling the proliferation of firearms. It is said that some people in the south love guns more than their spouses.
Duterte’s proposal might exacerbate the country’s gun control problem, putting the public at greater risk with guns in the hands of untrained and irresponsible civilians.
In the past, the nation was shocked with road rage incidents resulting in people getting shot because of a minor traffic incident.
In 1991, De La Salle graduate Eldon Maguan was shot dead by Rolito Go in a traffic altercation in Greenhills. Seven years later, a pregnant woman was shot dead in another road rage incident inside the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina.
The mass shooting incidents in the United States and other Western countries should be enough reasons why it is dangerous to allow civilians to carry weapons.
Last Friday, a drunken police sergeant went berserk and began shooting offices at the Manila Police Station, killing one and wounding another before he was gunned down.
The Communist New People’s Army could take advantage of the situation and step up its “agaw-armas” operations as these weapons are potential magnets for attacks.
Human rights lawyers and advocates and gunless society activists have a long list of reasons why the government should tighten gun ownership laws and why people should not be allowed to carry guns, except soldiers and police officers.
Duterte must rethink his crazy proposal to arm civilians because it will only increase the level of violence and may even result in a surge of criminal activities.
It will also create a climate of fear, not a safe and secure community. It will be a step back to the dark ages — to a period of lawlessness — like the American wild, west in the 19th century.