MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippine National Police on Sunday defended President Rodrigo Duterte's proposal to arm civilians in the government's anti-crime drive, even as former PNP chief and incumbent Senator Panfilo Lacson said this was a bad idea.
Last June 25, Duterte told a gathering of law enforcers and civilian volunteer "force multipliers" that he was "open" to arming civilian groups.
“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.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Saturday however warned that "arming civilians without proper training, qualification, and clear lines of accountabilities" may negatively impact human rights in the country.
In a statement, PNP chief Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar acknowledged the concerns raised by the CHR, but assured it that arming civilian organizations will not lead to vigilantism.
"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," he said.
“Batid ng ating Pangulo at kami mismo sa PNP ang panganib na kakaharapin ng aming volunteers 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 added.
According to Eleazar, requirements such as the License to Own and Possess Firearms (LTOPF), firearms license and the Permit to Carry Firearms Outside Residence (PTCFOR) are in place to prevent any possible abuse in the use of firearms.
He also said that if ordinary civilians are allowed to posses and carry firearms, then there is no reason to prevent members of civilian volunteer groups to have the same privilege.
According to Eleazar, the proposal to arm civilian groups is only for the groups' own protection, so that they can defend themselves from criminal elements.
"The proposal to arm them is purely for their own protection, to defend themselves and the PNP itself will not allow each and every one of them to engage in the actual fighting of criminal elements. The PNP also assures that only those who will qualify under the law may be permitted to own and possess firearms," he said.
LACSON: STRICTER GUN CONTROL NEEDED, NOT ARMING CIVILIANS
Lacson said that instead of arming civilians, stricter gun control laws should be implemented to curb criminality.
In a statement, Lacson, who was PNP chief from 1999 to 2001, warned that arming civlians may result in even more crimes.
"Arming civilians to fight criminality could backfire, especially if they don’t have the proper training and mindset. In the United States, there have been so many fatal shootings due to loose firearm laws,” Lacson said.
He also said that shooting incidents involving cops should serve as a lesson against arming civilians.
"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. That is why I 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, and should not be issued PTCFORs while still in the active service," he said.
"If our law enforcers who are supposed to be trained are prone to lapses, how much more in the case of untrained civilians?"
Lacson recalled that during his stint as PNP chief, he limited the issuance of the PTCFORs to those who pass the requirements, which include gun safety seminars, practical and neuropsychiatric tests and personal appearance of applicants.
Progressive group Akbayan, meanwhile, warned that Duterte's proposal to arm civilians would lead to the creation of private armies in the cities.
"As if giving everyone guns will solve anything. It will not suppress crime. It will only create a massive private army that could provoke more violence and extrajudicial killings," Akbayan Chair Emeritus Etta Rosales said in a statement.
Rosales, a former CHR chair, also said arming civilian groups is an admission that the PNP is failing to do its job of fighting crime and communist rebels.
"Instead of putting a stop to the culture of killings, the government is opening the door to an infinite loop of violence," she said, even describing the proposal as "insane."
Instead of arming citizens, the police should weed out rogue personnel and the government should implement tigher gun control regulations, Rosales said.
Philippine National Police, PNP, CHR, Commission on Human Rights, Panfilo Lacson, Ping Lacson, gun control, vigilantism, volunteer civilian organizations, firearms