Illicit Trafficking and Manufacturing of Firearms:
The Philippines is an archipelagic country whose territorial integrity is dispersed into subdivision of jurisdictional provinces. Each province is governed by a Local government headed by a Governor and towns within the province are controlled by the Mayors. Peace and order as well as the maintenance of Internal Security is the responsibility of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Through the years, proliferation of illicit trafficking of FA’s is perceived to be a menace to society. It becomes a stumbling block to our country’s economic development. Smuggling which causes economic sabotage and increase in terroristic as well as other criminal activities had been felt. These factors pose a serious threat to our National Security. Our political arena had been tainted by warlordism, power plays and terroristic acts using firearms. This situation greatly hampers the country’s economic recovery. Likewise, our society had been threatened by the proliferation of unregistered and or uncontrolled firearms.
The ultimate goal to have political control, economic advantage, power, revenge, seek for immediate justice and personal security are just but a few of the factors that a firearms trafficker has in mind. It is in this context that he violates the existing laws of the country.
Although aware of these situations, equipped with the basic legislative tools and motivated by the goal of a peaceful society, still our law enforcers are tied up with the following problems:
1. Lack of modern equipment
2. Wanting personnel monitoring ports of entry/exit
3. No informants/informers
4. Insufficiency of concerted efforts by concerned agencies
5. Lack of political will by some local officials
6. Feeling of apathy and tolerance by the community
Control of firearms rest solely on the National Police particularly the Firearms and Explosive Divisions (FED) at Camp Crame, Quezon City.
The FED’s mission to administer, enforce and implement Firearms and Explosive Laws, Rules and Regulations is realized by the performance of its basic functions to wit:
¨ To supervise and control the importation/exportation, manufacture, dealership, ownership, sale, transport, repair and carrying of firearms and ammunition.
¨ To supervise and control the importation/ exportation, manufacture, dealership, purchase, sale, transport, possession, and use of explosives, blasting agents, explosives ingredients and other explosives materials.
¨ To supervise and control the manufacture, dealership, purchase and sale of firecrackers and pyrotechnics and their ingredients.
¨ To supervise and control the operation of repair shops, gun clubs, hunting clubs and firing ranges.
¨ To support PNP units and other law enforcement agencies in the operation and investigation of firearms and explosives related cases.
¨ To act as the final repository of all firearms records in the country.
¨ To formulate rules and regulations pertinent to laws relative to firearms, ammunition, explosives, firecrackers and pyrotechnics, explosives ingredients and other explosives materials.
¨ To conduct education on firearms and explosives laws, rules and regulations; and gun safety and responsible gun ownership seminars.
There are about 633,607 licensed firearms in the Philippines today. We posted an average increase of 65,802 registered firearms per year. Most of these firearms are locally made and the rest are imported by legitimate dealers from U.S., China, Israel and European Countries.
Documentary evidence and data collected from intelligence information from our operating units yielded an estimate of about 329,985 loose firearms in the Philippines. These are either in the hands of gun enthusiast, hobbyist, political warlords or criminal elements and organizations.
Loose firearms are kept for use in future unscrupulous projects such as robbery/holdup, harassment of political opponents, use by private arm groups to undermine their rivals in political and economic power plays. Some of these loose FA’s are also in the hands of local dissidents in the country. There are 3,670 cases involving use of FA’s registered from 1993 to 1998. 93.27% of these cases involved the use of unlicensed FA’s and 6.73% involves licensed FA’s. We therefore share with you our security concerns brought about by the proliferation of loose firearms in our country.
The Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC)
Due to the magnitude of the prevailing issues on firearms trafficking, the Chief Executive addressed such menace by including arms smuggling (FA’s Trafficking) as a priority concern in the creation of Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC) under Executive Order No. 62 on Jan 15, 1999. Foremost among its mandate is the establishment through modern information and telecommunication technology, a shared central database among agencies for information on criminals, methodologies, arrests and convictions. The PCTC will focus on the following transnational crimes:
a. Illicit trafficking of narcotics drugs and psychotropic substances
b. Money laundering
d. ARMS SMUGGLING
e. Trafficking in persons
g. Other crimes that have impact on the stability and security of the country.
The Proposed ASEAN Center on Transnational Crime (ACOT)
In order to solicit regional and international cooperation, the Philippine Government is proposing the creation of a Center to be called the ASEAN Center on Transnational Crime (ACOT). This regional plan of action was conceptualized and formulized during the ASEAN Experts meeting held in Manila in December 1997. The Center is envisioned to act as the central body to coordinate all actions against transnational crime in the region. It will tackle the formulation of regional policies and operations planning, for the enhancement of Regional capacity in combating transnational crime through information exchange, research and training, and shall be the forum of dialogue between the ASEAN partners. Said project proposal was announced by his Excellency President Joseph Ejercito Estrada during the 6th ASEAN Summit on December 15, 1998 at Hanoi, Vietnam. The Philippine government will formally submit the project proposal for the creation of ACOT on the 2nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime Scheduled in Yangon, Myanmar on 21-23 June 1999.
· Those in the hands of government officials and employees
· Those that are in the possession of groups which have different political views with that of the established order.
· Those kept by the deviants of the Philippine Society
Most private citizens are not qualified to possess firearms. But many citizens, nonetheless, keep unlicensed firearms in the most secret places in their residences. This is true also among government officials and employees, to include members of the Armed Forces and the Police. In the Philippines, there are clans and even small families who do not see eye to eye with each other, either for reasons of politics, agrarian problems or business competitions. To have firearms, in the Philippines, moreover, is a status symbol – of a macho image and power. With gunrunning around, firearms can be easily obtained and kept from the eyes of the law enforcers. Somehow, in a community, one would know who has the most and deadly inventory of firearms.
And of course, the country has its own share of citizens who question the established order, and these groups certainly, would have caches of firearms and ammunition.
A. Local Gun (“Paltik”) Manufacturing
The main sources of uncontrolled firearms (loose firearms) are the unregistered local gun manufacturers. We call these sources as “PALTIK” manufacturers. They are concentrated in the island of Cebu particularly in Danao City, Mandaue City and other neighboring towns. These are clandestine backyard or cottage industries manned by family members purposely to produce “paltik” firearms for trade and economic alleviations.
P/Supt Robelito R. Comilang, PNP, in his 1993 theses presented to the Philippine Public Safety College, revealed that the Government is deprived of P40 M unpaid taxes due to smuggling of “Paltik” firearms.
Firearms are brought into the country through our ports of entry and exit. This modus operandum of gunrunners is made possible through connivance with some corrupt and unscrupulous officials of the bureaucracy. Likewise, door to door deliveries of packages, big equipments, appliances and even International Aid are being utilized as covers for such illicit activities.
The PNP Firearms and Explosive Division records show that from 1991 to March 1999, the National Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee – Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NALECC-NAIA) Group intercepted and confiscated 334 assorted smuggled firearms. Most of the items originated from mainland USA.
While the government campaign to dismantle all private armies in the Philippines has resulted in a significant decline in gunrunning transactions and incidents of firearms smuggling, the proliferation of loose firearms remains unabated. This can be attributed to continue smooth opportunities for local transhipments of firearms and inbound smuggling of foreign-made weapons through International airports and maritime ports. Sometime in 1992, it was monitored that a big shipment of firearms, mostly cal. 5.56 US made rifles, were unloaded in Mindanao. The firearms were allegedly purchased by local officials.
Meanwhile, local gunrunning activities, involving locally made firearms are frequently monitored. Danao-made (Cebu) handguns such as the cal. 22, cal. 5.56, cal. 38 revolvers and cal. 45 pistols are the most commonly traded small arms in the country. Aside from being relatively cheaper, these firearms are highly marketable and easier to procure than foreign-made handguns.
Information gathered by intelligence agencies in our country confirmed the Yakuza illegal firearms trade. Members of the Yakuza organization acquire the bulk of “paltik” productions in Cebu using different exit points like Batangas, Ilocos Sur and other northern parts of the country.
The gun trail can be traced from the individual “paltik” manufacturers elusive dens and production sites to the consumers through the enterprising individuals or groups whose main agenda is economic gain. Syndicated Crime Groups involved in trafficking of firearms collect finished products from individual sources and consolidate these firearms on pre-designated bodegas. Cache of firearms are shipped to Manila or any port for delivery to contacts for the CASH TRADE by YAKUZA contacts/agents. Thereafter the agents transport the said firearms mostly by ships, barges, motor bancas and other water carriers. Some utilize helicopters and aircraft for shipments.
The Gun Trail had been monitored ever since. Reports of confiscations, buy-bust operations and police raids prompted the YAKUZA to import technology of the gun manufacturer by hiring individual gun makers. These gunsmiths are brought to Japan in guise of tourists, contract workers, and other legitimate covers purposely to manufacture guns inside Japan.
Cebu-based manufacturers are the major source of firearms being shipped for both local and foreign markets. Other sources are Leyte and Negros provinces. From Cebu, firearms are shipped to Manila and other provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao on board passenger vessels and fishing boats, which regularly call at the ports of Cebu.
Another major site is the National Capital Region, specifically Manila North Harbor where handguns, armalite rifles, shotguns and other high-powered firearms are unloaded from commercial vessels calling at said port. The North Harbor is also a transit point for smuggled firearms. Other areas in Luzon where these activities are prevalent are Cavite, Pangasinan, llocos provinces, La Union, Batangas and Palawan. In addition, the southern backdoor is also being used in arms smuggling. Gunrunners in Southern Philippines sell firearms to either the ideological political groups or to local bandits. The areas in Mindanao .where these activities are rampant are Agusan, Misamis, Surigao, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi and Zamboanga provinces.
On the other hand, the more sophisticated and high powered firearms are smuggled into the country mostly by “balikbayans” or immigrants.
The following factors contribute to the flow/movement of firearms into and out of the country
· The country's geographic configuration with its long and irregular coastlines, and some sparse and isolated islands, that afford gunrunners numerous natural covers for landing sites and storage points.
· The prospects of huge profits and ready markets for smuggled firearms.
· Increased connivance among gunrunning syndicates and some corrupt law enforcers.
· Persistent involvement of some political families and other influential families in these activities either to beef up their private armies or as instruments in the conduct of illicit activities.
The Philippine Navy conducted 142 anti-gunrunning operations from 1992 to March of this year. The operations resulted in the apprehension of 55 vessels, involving 52 persons and seized/confiscated firearms with an estimated value of P5.7M.
Though we have control over establishments that deal with selling, delivery as well as manufacturing of firearms, there are difficulties in the monitoring, inventory and surveillance of their day to day activities and transactions. This is due to the insufficiency of personnel whose main task is to implement the Firearms Law. With this, there is a tendency for gun dealers/establishments to clandestinely black market excess goods which are neither registered nor monitored by the FED.
The stockpile of ammunitions and firearms of the AFP and PNP are left under the control and responsibility of individuals. Economic difficulties, pressure from peers and the need of outright cash motivate property custodians to bring out items from their custody to address their ongoing economic depressions. Embezzled properties like firearms are selling like hot cakes on the street.
Our country is beset with two (2) major insurgent groups, the New Peoples Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Sporadic clashes with these dissident groups occur every now and then. Firearms are likewise lost during “Agaw Armas Operations” (Firearms Snatching) in order to acquire firearms for their future dirty job operations.
III. Counter Measures
The proliferation of firearms in the country may result to formation of more private armed groups, criminal syndicates, ultra rightist elements, dissident organizations and many other illicit organizations which pose threats to the national security. Likewise, firearms smuggled out of the country may affect peace and order of the destination country. It is therefore imperative for us to address these problems.
B. On Smuggling The Customs Bureau is the primary agency tasked with addressing the smuggling of firearms. The Philippine government formed an AD-HOC committee to incorporate the efforts of all law enforcement and intelligence agencies by creating a coordinating body called the National Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (NALECC). Each member agency pass information to other agencies to come up with SPIDER WEB efforts to identify and entrap smugglers even at local inter island ports of entry and exit. Intensified information gathering by appointed intelligence agents and informants is likewise being undertaken. Searches by Coast Guard and Custom Officials are implemented on suspected carriers.
C. Stricter Implementation and Enforcement of Firearms Laws Rules and Regulations.
The FED had build up their Inspectorate Branch purposely to intensify campaign against illicit trade by legitimate dealers. This is done through the conduct of surprise inspections of stores, detailed inventory, manufacturing sight visits and stricter pass or transport control. Escorts from the police service are being utilized to monitor movements and transport of their firearms from one facility to other bodegas.
D. Pilferage of Firearms
The problem of pilferage of firearms from PNP/AFP Depot is now being addressed by the Counter Intelligence Operations and their respective Security Officers. Inventory and inspection of physical establishment are being monitored regularly. Aside from the enhancement of physical structure on camps and other military installations, safeguard mechanisms are employed.
E. On Losses from Police and Military Operations
Losses during legitimate Police and Military operations can be negated by professionalizing the police and the military. Training, Information and Education in order to take care of their individual equipments are every now and then instituted to the troops. Proper reporting of lost FA’s as well as recovered firearms from the enemy was mandated by Executive Order 122 dated 08 Sept 1994. The proper accounting of all Government Firearms therefore was undertaken as basis for future audit and inventory
IV Conclusion/ Regional Implications
Our problem lies on unregistered firearms. Firearms when not registered are easily delivered to criminal elements. These are the firearms subject to trading with the syndicated crime groups particularly the YAKUZA of Japan.
We believed that unless legislations be passed to address the local “paltik” industry, proliferation of home made “paltik” guns will remain unabated and will continue to destroy the tranquility and peace in our country. Control and regulation of firearms therefore is a must.
The proliferation of firearms in a particular state is a matter of serious concern for any government. This becomes aggravated when local or foreign-made firearms easily flow unhampered across state border, be it by land or sea.
The states of this region must recognize the fact that criminal activities in the modern times have grown to be high tech and transnational in nature.
While many countries in Southeast Asia are not affected by the
proliferation of firearms in the Philippines, there ought to be an exchange, nonetheless, of information on the status and progress of its transactions or tradings out of the Philippine border. This is imperative in order that other neighboring countries may be able to develop proactive concepts on how to stop illicit trafficking of firearms in their respective countries.
Currently, only the state of Japan had shown signs of alarm over gunrunning activities in the region. In 1992, it sponsored the "Liaison Conference among Related Government Offices on Enforcement Measures Against Guns". It was intended to induce workable measures by various countries to control the flow of guns across state borders.
In 1994, Japan again, through its Maritime Safety Agency, with a grant-in-aid from the Ship and Ocean Foundation of Japan (Chmn: Ryoichi Sasakawa) , sponsored the “International Experts Meeting on Law Enforcement against Maritime Smuggling". Various countries, including the Philippines, were represented in the meeting. Japan has been trying to pursue regional cooperation against gunrunning activities because large quantities of firearms and ammunition have been freely flowing into its shores through foreign ships which re-load the items into Japanese boats.
Criminal organizations in Japan, with special mention of "BORYOKUDAN" have been involved in many crimes involving the use of illicit firearms from the Philippines.
In 1995, the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency representatives visited the PNP Maritime Group and requested for a briefing on gunrunning activities that the latter had monitored.
The PNP has not monitored transshipment of locally made handguns to any country in the region, except Japan. Should the Asia currency crisis die-down and economic progress resume with its impressive rate, the possibility of gunrunning activities infecting other states in the region is not farfetched. This is because along with progress, bloom topnotch criminal minds.
1. All importation/exportation of FA’s licenses should be noted and reported to the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC).
2. The passage of an Act to control local firearms manufacturing by cooperatives, private corporations and individuals mandating their registration with the Firearms and Explosive Division, PNP.
3. More synergy from the law enforcement agencies concentrating on illicit firearms trafficking through the active participation of NALECC members.
4. Intensified regional/international cooperation and coordination through the establishment of the ASEAN Center on Transnational Crime (ACOT).