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PH gun maker aims higher for recognition

Gunsmiths at Armscor's Marikina plant assemble pistols.

By Norman Sison, VERA Files

In the Philippines, ask a security guard what make his firearm is and most likely it’s made by the local gun company Armscor.

But not for patriotic reasons. Armscor is known for producing relatively inexpensive revolvers, shotguns and rifles, making it the brand of choice of local security agencies. However, the Filipino appetite for foreign brands made the word “inexpensive” synonymous with “inferior”.

Armscor has a long way to go before it achieves legendary status alongside Italy’s Beretta, America’s Colt, Germany’s Heckler & Koch and other high-caliber names. But for the past years it has been making a name for itself abroad, particularly in the United States, because of a legendary American firearm that debuted in the Philippines.

Following its annexation of the Philippines in 1899, the United States sent troops to the main southern Philippine island of Mindanao as America exerted its control over its new colonial possession.

There, US troops found that the then-standard issue .38-caliber M1892 Colt revolver didn’t have enough stopping power to bring down Moro warriors, who resisted American colonial rule as they did the Spanish conquistadors for 300 years. Soldiers complained that it took at least four bullets to stop a charge.

That prompted the US Army to look for a replacement pistol that fired a larger bullet. On May 29, 1911, the army introduced the iconic .45-caliber Colt M1911 pistol, which sees action to this day, from World War I to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 1985, the US military replaced the M1911 with the 9-mm Beretta 92F pistol to conform to NATO standards, but the “1911” remained popular with US troops and American civilians because of its stopping power, not to mention its patriotic appeal.

A technician inspects .45-caliber bullets for quality.hat switch to the Beretta effectively left an open market for Armscor, which started churning out 1911s — known as the “45” in the Philippines — in 1990.

Armscor markets 1911s in the US under the American brand Rock Island Armory, which it acquired in 1990s. Some members of the US Marines and other services have bought 1911s from Armscor for their personal use, according to George Chua, Armscor’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Armscor traces its roots to a gun retail store Squires, Bingham & Co. that set up shop in 1905 in Manila. In 1980, the company was reorganized and became Arms Corporation of the Philippines, better known by its trade name.

Today, the company is the world’s largest producer of 1911s, cranking out around 7,000 a month. That’s aside from semi-automatic pistols of different calibers using the 1911 design, revolvers and rifles. Armscor also manufactures ammunition of various calibers.

At its seven-hectare plant in Marikina City, most of the gunsmiths are women, who are preferred for their delicate touch and eye for detail.

Last year, Armscor unveiled its new logo at a gun show in Manila to signal its drive to become a world-class brand. “Definitely, it is a stylish and modern-looking design that has gotten a lot of positive attention,” says Chua.

Armscor has found recent success by going small. In 2011, it introduced a 1911-style pistol that fires a new type of cartridge produced only by Armscor: the 22 TCM — the “T” stands for the company’s Tuason family owners, the “C” stands for American TCM designer Fred Craig, and the “M” for Micro-Magnum.

It has a huge stopping power because of the increased velocity — at around 2,100 feet per second — but with less recoil, which allows a shooter to aim faster for another shot. Also, the smaller bullet size means more ammunition in the gun. A traditional 1911 has seven bullets, while a TCM pistol can carry 18 rounds.

So far, most reactions from gun enthusiasts have been positive. In one YouTube video, an American shooter demonstrating the new ammunition blew up a watermelon, while a 9-mm round only cracked the fruit. “Incredible,” he remarked.

Since the TCM pistol fires ammunition that is unique to Armscor, the kit comes with a 9-mm barrel so the weapon can be converted to fire the more available ammunition if the shooters runs out of TCM bullets. To meet the demand for the 22 TCM, the company opened a plant in Montana in 2011, its second in the US.

Meanwhile, in the works is a new design 9-mm pistol, which Armscor hopes will take it to new heights.

Last year, Filipino nationalists were angered when the Philippine National Police bid out a contract for 60,000 9-mm pistols and awarded it to an importer of the Austrian-made Glock.

Armscor has proven that something produced from the Philippines can compete with the best in the world, they said. The government should take the lead in showing off to the world the efficiency and power of arms made in the Philippines.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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