Arroyo bans the carrying of guns in public
Alan Robles in Manila
In the wake of several murders, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday forbade civilian gun owners from carrying their weapons in public.
Speaking at an event organised by the Philippine National Police, President Arroyo said: 'Only authorised public officials, police officers and the military may carry firearms in public places.'
Last week, two former communist leaders were killed by gunmen. Two weeks before that, a 26-year old law student was shot dead in a traffic altercation. And yesterday about the time the president made her speech, four men armed with automatic pistols held up a bank only a few kilometres away.
Yesterday's declaration was not the first time a Philippine government has tried to control the country's chronic gun problem. The police themselves admit they don't know exactly how many gun owners there are, but estimate the number at 800,000.
In some parts of the country it is necessary to carry weapons. Doctor Nilo Barandino, a former kidnap victim who lives in Mindanao and whose son was killed by Abu Sayyaf terrorists, said he always carried a rifle and a pistol.
Mr Barandino said he and others like him should be exempted from the ban. 'I don't think this is applicable here. I don't want to be killed without a fight,' he said.
Interior Secretary Joey Lina said there were 328,000 unregistered guns in the country and that 85 per cent of those used in crimes were unlicensed.
Officials of the Firearms and Explosives Division, which issues 1,000 licences a day, said the system was rife with irregularities - permits were issued to 'non-existent applicants' or gun owners who produced fake documents.
Police director general Hermogenes Ebdane said enforcing the president's order would be 'complicated'.
One reason is that policemen and soldiers are themselves reportedly involved in the trafficking of illegal firearms. Another is that existing laws are unevenly applied, if at all.
Last year, the son of Senator Robert Jaworski was apprehended while firing guns in a Manila neighbourhood. Police confiscated an assault rifle, complete with telescopic sights.
The man's companions, including a young woman, carried automatic pistols. The group, which claimed to be 'hunting rats' in a vacant lot, was not prosecuted.
It is not only Muslim terrorists, communist guerillas and criminals who pack weapons. In the assassination of ex-communist leader Rolando Kintanar last week, four gunmen burst into a restaurant and shot their victim dead. Then they shot and wounded two other diners at a nearby table who had drawn guns and tried to return fire.
Despite all the shootouts, the country has a gun lobby, the Peaceful Responsible Owners of Guns, which insists that most gun owners are law-abiding citizens.
An official of the group has expressed readiness to hold a public debate, adding that he and his fellow gun owners 'will behave like intelligent, mature and open-minded people. And we will not be armed.'
Police estimate the number of gun owners in the country to be 800,000
There are about 328,000 unregistered guns in the Philippines
Eighty-five per cent of firearms used in crimes in the Philippines are unlicensed