Ex-defense chief: Arming civilians to fight crime a ‘false solution to a serious problem’

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Ex-defense chief: Arming civilians to fight crime a �false solution to a serious problem�
File photo shows various firearms.
The STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Former Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado on Monday night warned that President Rodrigo Duterte's proposal to arm civilian organizations to help police fight crime "will cause anarchy." 

The Philippine National Police has backed the proposal which Duterte on Friday said he was considering to help the agency "fulfill its mandate" and to aid "in restoring and reinforcing public trust in our police force." 

Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP chief, in a statement released Sunday, insisted that the suggested policy is only a means "to encourage volunteerism and definitely not vigilantism" despite a warning from the Commission on Human Rights that arming civilians "may further negatively impact the human rights situation in the country." 

"It is not upon us to take the law into our hands. This will cause anarchy," Mercado, also a former senator, told One News' "Sa Totoo Lang."

"What we should be afraid of when it comes to guns is not the bullet with our names on it but the bullet that says ‘to whom it may concern.’ If we allow people to go around with their own guns, etc, there are many hot-headed people," he said partially in Filipino. 

Mercado further cited the situation in the US, where firearms outnumber people, and its own president, Joe Biden, admits that the country is plagued by what he called an "epidemic" of gun violence. 

“Its a false solution to a serious problem," the former defense chief said of Duterte's proposal. 

Former police, defense chiefs: Go after illegal firearms instead 

Mercado also backed Sen. Panfilo Lacson's counterproposal for the PNP to enforce stricter gun control measures, including the more stringent issuance or even suspension of Permits to Carry Firearms Outside Residences (PTCFORs), which the former police chief said would deter crime better than a policy of arming civilians. 

When he was at the helm of the PNP, Lacson recalled, he limited the issuance of PTCFORs to those who pass requirements such as gun safety seminars, practical and neuro-psychiatric tests, and most importantly, the personal appearance of the applicants.

Like Mercado, the senator pointed to the prevalence of fatal shootings in the US, adding that they can be traced back to the country's "loose firearm laws." He contrasted with this the policy of Hong Kong where people automatically report to police those seen in civilian attire but carrying firearms. 

"My idea was — after much-improved law enforcement and peace and order, the only ones authorized to carry firearms outside their residences are uniformed police and military personnel on official mission," he said during a Balitaan sa Maynila forum held Sunday.

"Anybody, including PNP officers not in police uniform, must be assumed to have criminal intent and apprehended on the spot. It’s time the public developed a different mindset and assumption on people seen carrying firearms." 

He flagged in particular recent shooting incidents involving policemen not on duty, specifically Jonel Nuezca who shot dead 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son Frank Anthony Gregorio during an argument, and Hensie Zinapampan who shot 52-year-old Lilybeth Valdez in front of her family. 

"That is why I had suggested as a policy recommendation that policemen should turn in their issued firearms to their units' armorer or supply officer when on off-duty status, and should not be issued PTCFORs while still in the active service," he said.

Lacson further warned that [a]rming civilians to fight criminality could backfire, especially if they don't have the proper training and mindset."

"If our law enforcers who are supposed to be trained are prone to lapses, how much more in the case of untrained civilians?"  

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