Jose, a 35-year-old Filipino, is looking forward to brisk business ahead of presidential elections next May. \nBut he is not in the market to provide campaign placards or even the food candidates are fond of handing out to the poor to attract votes. \nPoliticians are among a steady stream of clients for the revolvers and machine pistols Jose produces in the backyard of his home in Danao City on the central Philippine island of Cebu. \n"Usually we sell a lot when an election is coming and on our part we are very happy," Jose told Reuters in his stuffy one-man workshop devoted to churning out the crude, illegal but highly effective weapons. \nWith as many as one in 80 Filipinos owning a firearm, and gun licences regarded as optional, shootings over trivial incidents such as traffic altercations are commonplace. \nAfter several shootings sparked by My Way, the Frank Sinatra favorite has become a song to avoid at karaoke bars. \nBut it is during the Philippines' bitterly fought elections that gun violence traditionally surges as rival clans with long histories of enmity battle for dominance and to settle scores. \nJose is one of an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people in Danao who work in the gun trade -- as many as one in 10 of the population -- giving it the dubious distinction of being the gun capital of one of the world's most trigger-happy countries. \nMany of the 6,500 people murdered every year meet their end from the barrel of a gun turned out by makeshift factories such as that of Jose. \n"We are just doing this for our livelihood, for the money," he said. "If we could feed our families with other jobs we would do it." \nSince World War II, when traders in the area supplied Filipino guerrillas with weapons to fight the occupying Japanese, Danao has armed everyone from political barons and security guards to Muslim rebels. \nMost of the gunmakers, who work secretly in backyards, or in the surrounding sugarcane fields and rolling hills, are well known to the police, but they typically turn a blind eye in a city where there are few jobs and high unemployment. \n"I guess some of them just pity these guys because they have no other work and they feel they may go into some other really illegal things, like maybe joining the subversives," said Ramon Durano III, mayor of Danao City, referring to Communist rebels active there and in troubled Mindanao province to the south. \nCritics say the police and the military allow the trade to flourish because they profit from it themselves. \nThere are certainly profits to be made. Jose sells machine pistols for up to US$215, with small calibre .38 revolvers going for a bargain US$27 -- still equivalent to a few weeks' wages for many. \nBy contrast, the city's 50 legal gun makers work in a cooperative and have to split the proceeds from sales of just 10 to 15 firearms a week. \nPolice estimate there are 800,000 registered guns in the country and at least another 400,000 illegal ones. \nMany of the Danao weapons end up in Mindanao, the main base of several Muslim rebel groups fighting the government. \nJapanese "yakuza" gangsters and Taiwanese criminals are said to have been customers, smuggling the weapons home on fishing boats. \nAbout 100 people died in election-related violence in limited national polls in 2001, 31 of them either incumbent officials or candidates. \nRamon Durano, father of the mayor of Danao, who established his family's iron control over the city, was an archetypal provincial warlord complete with a large private army. \n"Politics in Cebu is a battle of survival in a very physical sense ... you simply cannot allow yourself to be shot by gangsters," he wrote in his autobiography. \nThe heavy-handed tactics used to secure votes in the Philippines have become less blatant in recent years but the highly charged atmosphere ahead of next May's election has again stirred the specter of bloodshed. \nOpposition politicians have warned of a government-rigged poll, while members of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's camp have described the candidacy of actor Fernando Poe as a desperate bid by the opposition to grab power.
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