Sun, Apr 14, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Fear fuels booming illegal gun trade in the Philippines

Efforts to eradicate the country’s millions of illegal guns after a recent string of shootings are so far failing to make a dent in a nation where many do not trust the authorities to keep them safe

BY Jason Gutierrez  /  AFP, MANILA

Traffic wardens deputized by the police, but with little security training stand at intersections with revolvers hanging off their hips. Restaurants, nightclubs and banks often have signs asking patrons to leave their firearms at entrance counters.

Foreigners are warned by long-time expatriates to avoid any incident that could escalate into violence because of the potential for a gun to be used on them.

This month, an Australian man was shot in the head from point-blank range at a beach resort that he managed, with police suspecting an aggrieved former staff member may have ordered the murder.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III launched a high-profile campaign at the start of the year to get unlicensed guns off the streets.

Yet government data shows this has so far netted fewer that 2,200 firearms, highlighting what Quitoriano said was Manila’s lack of resolve and capability to tackle the issue.

Quitoriano said many powerful figures — including soldiers, police and politicians — have profited from the firearms trade, part of a huge corruption problem that plagues all sectors of society.

“Many of the unlicensed guns that leak into the gray market actually come from legal imports and government purchases,” he said.

Quitoriano said the climate of fear has fueled the black market.

“If the public trusted the government more, there would be no need for them to protect themselves by arming,” he said.

Alexander Reyes, who owns self-defense specialty shop Aquila Firearms and Ammunition Corp at a Manila mall, agreed.

“It used to be for prestige because guns equate with power,” Reyes said. “But nowadays, it is mostly for protection. The police cannot protect you 24/7.”

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