Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fool's Errand

The frequent government drives to discourage the proliferation of so called "loose" firearms in Mindanao and all over the country are always more about talk and sloganeering rather than accomplishing anything else more substantial. One such program implemented in Lianga not too long ago amply illustrates this point.

Some time ago, the police chief of Lianga came by the house as part of a series of police operations designed to encourage town residents to legalize their ownership of unlicensed firearms. Those not interested to do so were asked to surrender to police custody any unregistered guns and ammunition under an amnesty program that supposedly provided for immunity from legal prosecution for the illegal possession of such contraband items.

He might as well have tried pissing against the wind or banging his head on a brick wall. No one in town in his right mind would even consider surrendering a loose or unlicensed firearm even if he had one. And chances are, almost everyone there has one or even several tucked away somewhere.

For most Lianga residents, the male of the species in particular, as it is for most Filipinos, the mystical allure of the gun is strong and is deeply rooted in the cultural machismo which lies at the heart of how he basically views his status in his society and community. The man with the gun is not only a man to be feared, he is also a man of respect and prestige, someone who can thus adequately protect his family and possessions from all manner of aggression and attack.

Without a respectable weapon, a man has low status, a veritable weakling who may have to seek the protection of others, a fact that further demeans him as one who is supposed to be the guardian of not only his personal safety but, more importantly, the security of his family and dependents as well.

The gun is the ultimate expression and projection of personal power. It is, in the prevailing Filipino mindset, the modern man's version of the samurai warrior's katana or mystic sword and the medieval knight's war blade. It is, in the ultimate sense, no mere machine or ordinary device but an instrument of death and destruction. He who wields it well holds the power of life and death.

That a personal firearm is unlicensed or unregistered is often viewed as irrelevant. Many even prefer it to be that way believing as most do that the less the government know of the number and type of weapons they have in their possession, the safer these weapons are from inevitable government seizure and confiscation. You can brag to your friends and neighbors about the automatic rifle in your bedroom but certainly not to the men in uniform.

In the end, our chief of police had to content himself with going through the motions of merely asking the local folks to comply with the laws on firearm possession. He could not do anything more than that without violating the laws on personal privacy and unlawful searches. It was an impossible task if there ever was one.

In his list, only four firearms, all of them pistols can be verified as located and in the possession of their owners in the whole of Lianga. That number was not only false, it was so pathetically and obviously untrue that it was downright laughable. I know for a fact that almost everyone in the neighborhood itself would not be caught dead without at least one firearm in their own homes. None of them are in any way licensed or registered.

But one was going to talk, at least to the police, and no one will ever will.

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