EDITORIAL - Gun culture

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Gun culture

In Cebu last week, police armed with a court warrant raided the home of the barangay captain of Baclayan in Boljoon town, and arrested Elderson Han Baldezamo Mabalatan on gun charges. The police reported confiscating from the village chief two .45-caliber pistols and a hand grenade.

Earlier on March 20, another village chairman who is president of the local association of barangay captains, Angelito de Mesa of Barangay Masaya in Bay, Laguna, was arrested following a police search of his home. The raiders reported seizing an M16 rifle equipped with a silencer and telescope, a 9mm machine pistol, ammunition and magazines for the guns.

The country has tough laws against illegal gun possession, with stiff penalties as provided under Republic Act 10591, the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act passed in 2013. Yet loose firearms continue to proliferate, promoting deadly violence that has marred politics and elections.

In this part of Asia, the Philippines has the second highest intentional homicide rate, ranking only behind Myanmar. Apart from thousands of drug suspects killed in the previous administration, the country has a long string of murders targeting activists, journalists and legal professionals.

Every electoral exercise in this country is marked by lethal violence, with candidates seeing murder as the ultimate tool for eliminating political rivals. The massacre of Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo and nine others at his home has been linked to his family’s feud with the rival Teves clan. Deadly violence is employed even in races for the smallest unit of government, the barangay.

With the elections for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan set this October, the Philippine National Police says it is monitoring at least 49 active and potential private armed groups across the country. Whether the PNP can actually crack down on those groups is another story. Many private armies are maintained by influential politicians who are themselves keepers of large arsenals.

If a barangay captain can have an unlicensed grenade in his possession, think of what higher ranking officials are keeping. The alleged mastermind in Degamo’s murder, Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr., his two sons and his brother, Bayawan town Mayor Pryde Henry Teves face charges over a cache of guns and explosives found in his property. Arnolfo Teves said the weapons were planted by the raiders.

The easy availability of all sorts of guns and even grenades plus the weakness of the criminal justice system have created a culture of violence and impunity. As the barangay and youth council elections approach, the PNP will have to do more than merely monitor private armed groups.

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