Vice-Mayor Jun Lala recently voiced his concern about the negative consequences of a recent order from higher police headquarters directing Lianga policemen to return to government custody their issued M-16 automatic rifles and prohibiting them from using such type of firearms in the near future. The understanding is that the weaponry of local police forces shall, henceforth, be restricted to pistol sidearms and, in some cases, shotguns like many of their counterparts in other countries like the United States.
Automatic rifles and other high-powered weapons shall eventually be reserved for the use of special police and the military units only.
If I remember correctly, this government policy has already been in place for some time now but for some reason, the actual implementation has been somehow rather halfhearted and inconsistent. Perhaps many police personnel in the field feel rather naked and vulnerable without their trusty Armalite rifles have been resisting full implementation of the directive until now.
Such feelings are maybe understandable in the case of towns like Lianga which is located in the heart of an area where the Communist insurgency is alive and kicking and where police forces are often at the mercy of well-armed guerrilla insurgents who occasionally ambush them when they are on the move or conduct raids and attacks on municipal halls and other government installations.
The fact is, policemen in places like Lianga, as a consequence of the decades of the militarization of the police service, do not see much difference in their roles as peacekeepers from that of military personnel who in many cases do perform police functions as well. Thus counterinsurgency operations involves both both police and military units and the latter are often involved in supposedly purely police functions like running after smugglers and kidnappers.
Thus police training methods and operational procedures, even today, are still militarized to a large extent. Police officers still like to refer to themselves by their military ranks , use military jargon and rely heavily on military tactics. To be suddenly told to patrol their community streets and surroundings armed only with a sidearm and a police stick can be, for them, akin to sending them defenseless into a war zone where they can be picked off like sitting ducks at a shooting range.
Never mind the fact that the rebels consider police stations and camps in the countryside as their primary source of confiscated firearms and equipment. Never mind the truth that arming the police with high-powered rifles and military equipment has not made them by large an effective counterinsurgency force and have instead made them easy targets for rebel forces eager to replenish their armories and equipment inventories.
The truth of the matter is I have always been rather uneasy at the sight of policemen carrying M-16 rifles and using military type equipment. Peace officers and soldiers have different roles to play in the fight against threats to peace and order and national security. One does not use a sledgehammer to drive a nail into wood where an ordinary hammer would suffice.
A local police force armed with the weapons appropriate for its role in a community like Lianga is, in my view, a step in the right direction. But enough flexibility in the implementation of this policy and the proper allocation of resources and personnel must also be emphasized.
That means the augmentation of existing military forces in the Lianga area in order that the vital fight against insurgency will not be compromised. Mobile special police operations units must be readily available to handle and respond promptly to unexpected police emergencies. And the ordinary police officer on the street must be reoriented and retrained in the new and purely civilian role he now has to play in the community.
I sympathize with Vice-Mayor Lala's concern for the immediate negative effects of the new firearms policy for the local police force. I trust however that the leadership of the town government is doing what it can to address that concern. Getting the townspeople more heavily and enthusiastically involved on the issue of fighting criminality and maintaining peace and order is also the order of the day.
And with the festivities commemorating the annual town fiesta just two weeks away, it is imperative that these issues and concerns be largely laid to rest soon. Otherwise, the consequences would be catastrophic, to say the least.