MANILA - Despite apprehensions raised by some senators and stakeholders, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations still gave its nod to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on Thursday.
The ATT will be referred to the plenary for the concurrence of the whole chamber.
The treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly with an aim to establish the “highest international standards” and regulate international trade in conventional arms and prevent any illicit trade in the firearms industry.
Prior to its approval, administration Senators Imee Marcos and Francis Tolentino registered concerns on how the ATT could eliminate the non-stop proliferation of loose firearms in the country.
“The ATT is no answer on the proliferation of illicit and loose firearms in the Philippines, given that so many of our illicit firearms are actually sourced in-country from backyard craftsmen,” Marcos said.
Proof to this, she said, is the continued existence of insurgents and terrorists for years.
“Some are rooted from terror groups and insurgents from encounters and some are sold underground by some unscrupulous individuals within the ranks themselves. So parang walang bearing siya eh sa ating proliferation of firearms,” Marcos says.
Tolentino meantime pointed to the continuous sneaking into the country of illegal firearms from abroad, just like what was seen during the Marawi siege, wherein rebels used weapons allegedly sourced from other countries.
“With what happened in Afghanistan, with the number weaponry, the tactical vehicles practically turned over to the Taliban, there is big chance that even a portion would reach other countries as well,” he said.
“How would this treaty, enacted before that Afghanistan fall, really diffuse in the minds of the State parties that there will be no illicit sale—which is one of the objectives of this treaty—and how can the state parties really tighten the borders, etc?”
Senate foreign relations committee chairperson Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III maintained that the main objective of the ATT is to “reduce human suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfer, improve regional security and stability, and promote the accountability and transparency by the state parties concerning transfers of conventional arms.”
“I don’t know if we can label Afghanistan already a collapsed state—but a collapse of a government which led to abandonment of many firearms and equipment, that may also lead to system of network, and then they will find their way here in the Philippines,” Pimentel said.
Ambassador Bruce Concepcion from the Office of the Special Envoy for Transnational Crimes echoed Pimentel’s views.
Pimentel has instructed Concepcion to prepare answers to the concerns raised by the stakeholders, during the plenary deliberations of the ATT.
At the hearing, ARMSCOR Global Defense, Inc. deputy chief executive Gina Marie Anganco insisted that the local firearms industry will not benefit anything from the ATT.
“We don’t believe that the ATT is helpful to us. We have had many experiences where our permits were stopped and we had to go through a long process of going to ambassadors to try to seek help as they say there are human rights abuses in our country. We also feel that this is an added bureaucracy,” Angangco said.
“We are afraid that we have to go through a third agency, the Office of Transnational Crime. So, we don’t think it will help us. It is also an added expense. We are contributing to a fund to implement the ATT but we are not benefiting from it,” she added.
The same sentiment was raised by the Association of Firearms and Ammunitions Dealers of the Philippines, believing that ATT will only weaken the already strict firearms regulations in the Philippines.
“We earnestly believe that the ATT must not be ratified because it is disadvantageous to the country,” the association’s president Hagen Alexander Topacio said.
“The ATT will require the Philippines to apply international standards and definitions of conventional weapons contradictory to Philippine laws which provides stricter standards. For example, a barrel in the Philippines is already considered a firearm,” he added.
Topacio said approving the treaty could also jeopardize the nation’s security since the government would be obligated to report all its firearms imports and exports in the future.
Despite the opposition raised by the firearms industry players, most government agencies, including the security sector, supported the ratification of the said treaty.