Call for total gun ban up in the Philippines

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The death of 7-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella by celebratory gunfire in Caloocan City on New Year's Eve and the shooting rampage three days later in Kawit town in Cavite province that left eight people dead and 12 others wounded on Friday have drawn attention to a number of gun-control measures that have been rotting in Congress.

Nicole's death and Ronald Bae's shooting rampage have also led to calls for stricter gun controls and a total gun ban.

On Saturday, Roman Catholic bishops added their voices to the calls for a total, permanent gun ban and not only during election periods.

Among the gun-control measures gathering dust in Congress is the proposed Citizen's Protection Act of 2010, filed by prolife groups and signed by 86 Roman Catholic bishops.

The signatories to the proposal included former Senators Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Wigberto Tanada.

Filed as an "indirect initiative," the bill would limit carrying of firearms in public places to "those directly and primarily engaged in police, military and security matters."

"Possession by civilians or private persons of such deadly weapons is not a matter of right," it said.

"It assumes the predominance in our society of the law of the jungle tacitly encouraging a 'war of all against all' and 'every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost' rather than indicating trust in the government and our duly constituted authorities," the bill said.

"Society can take no shorter route to anarchy than this road," it said.

No action taken

Two years since the proposal was filed, Congress has yet to take action, said JC de los Reyes, president of Ang Kapatiran Party, one the petitioners.

"Culture always cascades from the top and when you have a gun collector for a president, can you expect a culture of roses?" De los Reyes told the Inquirer, referring to President Aquino, a gun enthusiast.

In a letter to the President the following year, the petitioners asked Aquino to certify the bill as urgent so it could be immediately approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

"The bill will make the harmless act of carrying a gun in public places a criminal offense (mala prohibita) before such harmless act turns into a violent crime," the petitioners told the President.

"Mr President, we look to your leadership to help us realise our collective dream of genuine peace," the signatories added.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the government should consider a total gun ban to ensure the safety of unarmed Filipinos.

"Maybe it's for the government to study," Palma said in an interview. "There may be some people who may be allowed in some circumstances [to carry firearms] but in general, the spirit [of the proposal] is good," he said.

"We have to consider what the others say when they claim the right to protect themselves [but] as I said, in principle, the gun ban is in the spirit of peace and protection, especially of the innocent," Palma said.

The Catholic bishops' president said the government should be strict in issuing licenses to own guns and permits to carry and really crack down on unlicensed firearms.

Gospel of life

Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes said the bishops were "saddened" by the tragedy in Cavite, where Bae, a former barangay captain, went on a drug-fueled shooting spree on Friday morning.

Bae had killed eight people, including two children, and wounded 12 others before police arrived and shot him dead in an exchange of gunfire.

"We are saddened because this happened," Reyes said. "We thought these things happen only in the US. Now it's starting to happen here."

Reyes also called for stricter gun controls.

"I'm not an expert in safety, but at least there must be more control," he said.

Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros said he supported a total gun ban because it ran in line with the Church's "prolife position."

"We support a total gun ban. We proclaim the gospel of life versus the culture of death," Oliveros said.

Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Yniguez also favours a total gun ban that is permanent, not just during elections.

"I'm in favour of the gun ban. Only the police and the military may carry guns but they should also be regulated," Yniguez said.

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes and Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said they, too, supported a total gun ban.

And Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, former CBCP president, said there should be a campaign for "responsible and moral use of guns."

"That covers both legally and illegally acquired guns," Lagdameo said.

No more time

But Sen. Gregorio Honasan said on Saturday that the current Congress did not have enough time to enact tighter gun controls.

Honasan said, however, that his committee on public order and dangerous drugs would review existing gun laws, consolidate related pending bills and conduct public hearings on gun controls when sessions resume on January 21

"I'm not optimistic that we can pass a law before the recess," Honasan said.

"The best effort is that we can review existing laws and consolidate these bills and come up with a report, which the next Congress can use as basis [for a new law or amendments to gun laws]," he said.

The 15th Congress has only three weeks and nine session days to work starting Jan. 21 to Feb. 8. Then it goes on recess to give way to the campaign for the midterm elections in May.

Suspend all permits

Sen. Panfilo Lacson proposed to the government the suspension of all permits to carry in the wake of Bae's shooting spree.

Lacson, a former national police chief, said only uniformed police officers on actual duty should be allowed to carry firearms.

Intelligence officers need not carry firearms because their missions call for covert operations, Lacson said.

Related to the indirect initiative bill in the House is a proposal filed by Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her son, Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado 'Dato' Arroyo.

Their proposed "Child Safety Firearms Act" would "reduce if not eliminate injuries and deaths caused by accidental firearm shootings by children by making sure safety devices are in place in firearms a condition before they can be sold or imported."

A firearm, for instance, should include a device or mechanism preventing a "child [under] 7 years of age from discharging the firearm by reason of the amount of strength, dexterity, cognitive skill or other ability required to cause a discharge."

The device should also keep a "removable magazine from discharging when the magazine has been removed."

Fewer potential suspects

Under pressure to find the man who fired the .45-caliber bullet that killed Nicole, the Caloocan police has narrowed down the number of potential suspects from 45 to 32 gun owners who live in Barangay Malaria in Caloocan City.

Supt. Jackie Candelario, Caloocan police spokesperson, said Saturday that the lower number represented the owners of .45-caliber pistols who lived within a 50-meter radius from the spot where Nicole fell after being hit on New Year's Eve.

Police reconstructed on Thursday night the trajectory of the bullet.

According to Candelario, police learned from the reconstruction that the bullet that hit Nicole traveled a distance of 50 metres.

Candelario said the potential suspects include former soldier Juan Agus, who had admitted to firing a .45-caliber pistol on New Year's Eve.

Ballistic tests showed the bullet that killed Nicole was not fired from Agus' gun, Candelario said.

But Agus and three drinking buddies who also fired his gun face investigation by the City Prosecutor's Office to determine whether the charges of alarm and scandal filed against them could be upgraded to reckless impudence resulting in homicide.

Bigger bounty

Valenzuela City Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian went to the wake for Nicole on Saturday and gave 200,000 pesos (US$4,900) to add to the bounty for the arrest of the person who fired the bullet that killed the little girl.

Gatchalian also opened a Facebook account, Justice for Nicole, for details on how to help find the gun owner.

"A bigger bounty might help in the swifter attainment of justice. We are opening an account for those who want to help, with the option for the funds you donate to be returned within six months if the culprit is not found," Gatchalian said. With reports from Norman Bordadora and Kristine Felisse Mangunay

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