New Philippine law allows priests, journalists, lawyers to carry guns

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 5:54pm

Journalists, priests, lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants and engineers will automatically be allowed to carry firearms outside their homes under a new law taking effect this month.

The Republic Act 10591, signed last year, classifies them as “in imminent danger due to their profession”.

Under the previous law, Republic Act 8294, they were, as is any other citizen, required to prove they were “under actual threat” before being issued a special permit to carry firearms.

I could see the state interest in making this classification to prevent further targeting and killing
Harry Roque, human rights lawyer

Now, all that is required is they pass a drug and psychiatric test and give a certification that they have no pending criminal case punishable by over two years in jail and no conviction.

But the law is unclear whether armed journalists with pending libel suits filed by powerful government officials would lose their permit to carry.

University College of Law professor Harry Roque, a human rights lawyer, told South China Morning Post: “I appreciate the concern of the state, considering we are one of the most murderous countries for journalists and the most murderous country for lawyers and judges.

“I could see the state interest in making this classification to prevent further targeting and killing.”

Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima hailed the new law, saying: “This is not just to standardise the regulation of firearms but will also help us to intensify our campaign in curbing gun-related crimes and establish effective firearm control.”

The new law requires every gun owner to obtain three separate permits. First, a licence to own even before buying a gun. Second, the gun itself has to be registered. And third, if he qualifies, he can obtain a permit to carry his firearm outside his residence.

Purisima added that the new regulation carries with it a stronger punishment for those who violate it. For example, taking a licenced gun outside the home without the permit can land a gun owner in prison sentence of up to two years, instead of just four months under the old law, RA 8294.

RA 8294 amended an even harsher law imposing a life sentence for the same crime.

The amendment was pushed in the 1990s by President Fidel Ramos’ government after action star Robin Padilla, a political ally, was arrested carrying three high-powered firearms and no permit after his vehicle knocked down an egg vendor.

Despite these changes, however, Gunless Society founder Nandy Pacheco raised concerns over the new law, pointing out that it allows a “certified gun collector” to possess more than 15 firearms but does not define what a gun collector is.

“The more arms, the more trouble we will have,” he warned.

Roque expressed concern this loophole could enable politicians to maintain private armies.

Gun violence is a frequent occurrence in Manila. On New Year’s Eve, 21 people were hit by stray bullets nationwide. One of them – an infant – died. The police has yet to arrest the killer.

A week ago, the grandson of prominent comedian Willy Nepomuceno, famous for impersonating presidents, was shot by four armed men in suburban Manila. The police have hinted the suspects were from “wealthy families”.

Quite a number of politicians are known to possess firearms.

President Benigno Aquino, a gun enthusiast like his late father, is known to own over a dozen firearms.

Recently, he told a group of visiting female students that target shooting in the palace grounds was his way of beating stress. “I still engage in practical shooting, once a week. It gives you a break from everything,” he said.

The police have not released official figures of the actual number of registered firearms since its records are incomplete.

Police Chief Superintendent Louie Oppus, director of the firearms and explosives office, conceded that in the past, corruption enabled unqualified individuals to register guns through “fixers.”

A gun dealers association said there were 1.5 million licenced guns. Estimates of “loose” or unregistered firearms range from 400,000 to 700,000 but could be much more, given the porous borders and a thriving underground gun manufacturing cottage industry.

Roque called the new law “a stop-gap measure while we are not able to make the justice system work”.