PNP chief backs Duterte's proposal to arm civilian volunteers vs crime

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
PNP chief backs Duterte's proposal to arm civilian volunteers vs crime
Undated file photo shows San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora checking out unlicensed firearms surrendered to the city police.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police has backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s suggestion to arm civilian organizations, which it claimed are "partners of the police in fighting crime."

In a release sent to reporters, Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP chief claimed that the proposed measure was only a means "to encourage volunteerism and definitely not vigilantism."

"The suggestion made was aimed at ensuring their own protection — but with an assurance that they will undergo the rules and procedures for civilians to possess and carry firearms," Eleazar said. 

The country's top cop added that civilians will be made to secure a License to Own and Possess Firearms, firearms license, and the Permit to Carry Firearms Outside Residence, all of which are requirements before a civilian can own a firearm.

If civilians are allowed to possess and carry firearms for as long as they comply with the rules and regulations of the law and are qualified to do so, Eleazar claimed that "there is no reason to prevent members of civilian volunteer groups to enjoy the same privilege."

“There is no reason not to follow these policies on civilian gun ownership even with our efforts to enhance our relations with the community in fighting crime, insurgency, and illegal drugs, among others," he said. 

'I will order the police'

This comes after Duterte earlier said he was open to issuing firearms to a new group of volunteers to help the PNP "fulfill its mandate and, especially, in restoring and reinforcing public trust in our police force."

"If you have this coalition, you have a list of people who are there and who can arm themselves. I will order the police. If you are qualified, get a gun and help us enforce the laws," Duterte said during the launch of the coalition in Camp Crame on Friday.

The chief executive typically makes policy decisions on the fly during public addresses, and government officials including the national police have often shown that they will rush to implement policies that the president mentions in his nightly speeches.

When the president ordered the arrest of anyone caught without a face mask, thousands were arrested the week after. 

Earlier this week, the president in one of his signature rants went as far as threatening to put anyone refusing to be vaccinated behind bars. 

But as early as the start of the year, former PNP chief Debold Sinas declared an intensified crackdown on loose firearms. 

“The police are ensuring the public’s safety by taking away loose firearms in the hands of criminal elements, threat groups and unauthorized individuals,” Sinas said then in a statement.

A gun with an unrenewed license is classified as a loose firearm, which PNP data acknowledges make up almost 99% of firearms used in crimes. 

'Armed civilians may exacerbate human rights situation'

In a statement issued Saturday afternoon, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia cited the 1987 Constitution in arguing that the government shall only maintain one police force, which is national in scope and civilian in character.

“Arming civilians without proper training, qualification, and clear lines of accountabilities may lead to lawlessness and proliferation of arms, which may further negatively impact the human rights situation in the country,” she said. 

In response, Eleazar said that the President’s call to arm civilian groups "might be out of his strong urge and desire to combat lawlessness in the society."

“We support the argument of the CHR on this case but it should also understand that we cannot let them be at the mercy of the criminal elements that we encourage them to fight alongside with us,” said Eleazar.

“The proposal to arm them is purely for their own protection, to defend themselves and the PNP itself will not allow each and every one of them to engage in the actual fighting of criminal elements. The PNP also assures that only those who will qualify under the law may be permitted to own and possess firearms."

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