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Lacson warns: More problems than solutions in arming civilians

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Senator Panfilo M. Lacson warned Sunday that issuing firearms to anti-crime volunteers to help enforce the law as President Rodrigo Duterte has suggested may result in even more crime, especially if this is abused.

Lacson, who was chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) from 1999 to 2001, said he believes that arming civilians to fight criminality could backfire, especially if they don't have the proper training and mindset.

In the United States, there are many fatal shootings due to loose firearm laws, he said.

Stricter gun control measures by the police, including more stringent requirements for or even suspension of Permits to Carry Firearms Outside Residences (PTCFORs) would be a better solution to stopping criminality than arming civilians, Lacson said.

"The shooting incidents involving policemen not on duty — such as Jonel Nuezca in December 2020, and Hensie Zinampan earlier this year — should serve as a valuable lesson to us," Lacson said.

Because of this, he had suggested as a policy recommendation that policemen should turn in their issued firearms to their units' armorer or supply officer when on off-duty status.

He also said they should not be issued PTCFORs while still in active service.

"If our law enforcers who are supposed to be trained are prone to lapses, how much more in the case of untrained civilians?" Lacsonadded.

The senator recalled that when he was PNP chief, he limited theissuance of PTCFORs to those who pass requirements such as gun safety seminars, practical and neuro-psychiatric tests, and most importantly, a personal appearance by the applicants.

“My idea was — after much-improved law enforcement and peace andorder, the only ones authorized to carry firearms outside theirresidences are uniformed police and military personnel on officialmission," Lacson said.

He noted that anybody, including PNP officers not in uniform, must be assumed to have criminal intent and apprehended on the spot.

It’s time the public developed a different mindset and assumption on people seen carrying firearms, Lacson said.

He reiterated that in other territories like Hong Kong, people automatically report to police those who in civilian attire are carrying firearms, which he said should be for self-defense againstintruders and should be kept at home.

Vice President Leni Robredo, meanwhile, slammed the President for what she called a “fear-based” approach to governance.

During her weekly radio program, Robredo reacted to the President’s proposal to arm civilian anti-crime volunteers, saying people must not be treated as mere subjects.

“If you don’t obey, you get jailed, or harm may happen to you. Fear always operates,” she added.

Robredo backed the Commission on Human Rights’ view that to arm civilian groups to deter crime could lead to abuses.

PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar welcomed the concern raised by the CHR over President Duterte’s suggestion to arm the police’s partners in fighting crime and terrorism.

“We understand the concern of the officials of the Commission on Human Rights, but we assure them that the President’s suggestion is to encourage volunteerism and definitely not vigilantism,” Eleazar saidin a statement.

Eleazar also said Duterte’s recommendation aims to protect the civilian volunteers against the criminal elements, including members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that is listed as terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

“The President, and even we in the PNP, know the dangers that our volunteers will be facing for standing up against criminal elements that include members of the CPP-NPA-NDF, and the suggestion made was aimed at ensuring their own protection—but with an assurance that they will undergo the rules and procedures for civilians to possess and carry firearms,” Eleazar said.

He said the rules and procedures include securing License to Own and Possess Firearms (LTOPF) which is a requirement before a civilian can buy a firearm, firearms license, and the Permit to Carry FirearmsOutside Residence (PTCFOR).

If civilians are allowed to possess and carry firearms for as long asthey comply with the rules and regulations of the law and are qualified to do so, Eleazar said there is no reason to prevent members of civilian volunteer groups from enjoying the same privilege.

Eleazar said Duterte’s call to arm civilian groups might be out of his strong desire to combat lawlessness in society.

On June 25, the PNP launched the Global Coalition of Lingkod Bayan Advocacy Support Groups and Force Multipliers that aims to build a strong collaborative partnership with the community in support of the ongoing campaign against criminality and terrorism.

Duterte thanked the PNP for taking the initiative to establish a shift in strategy in dealing with the country’s 53-year-old problem of communist insurgency as a significant contribution to the objectives of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to put a decisive end to the local rebellion.

In his message, Duterte recognized the efforts and support extended by the multi-sectoral groups to which he expressed his firm belief that through this coalition, the PNP can simply access, gather, mobilize, and expand the pool of warm bodies and resources from different government agencies and sectoral organizations to complement the efforts of various law enforcement units in the fight against illegal drugs, insurgency, terrorism and in the implementation of health protocols.

“If you have this coalition, you have a list of people who are there who can arm themselves. I will order the police if you are qualified, get a gun, and help us enforce the laws,” Duterte said.

In response, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said: "Arming civilians without proper training, qualification, and clear lines ofaccountabilities may lead to lawlessness and proliferation of arms that may further negatively impact the human rights situation in thecountry."


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