When then Col. Paul Kenneth Lucas assumed command as director of the National Police’s Firearms and Explosives Office in August last year – he eventually was promoted to one-star rank – two problems immediately confronted him: half a million guns with expired registration and about 400,000 gun owners who have expired licenses.
Technically, those weapons are “loose firearms” and should be collected, while the delinquent gun owners are liable for “illegal possession of firearms,” a criminal offense punishable by 40 years jail, depending on the number of their unlicensed guns.
Gun possession has always been a controversial issue in the Philippines and elsewhere.
Unlike in the United States where gun possession is guaranteed by the Second Amendment of its Constitution, there is no such guarantee in the Philippines.
As early as 1908, the Supreme Court, in the case of The Government of the Philippine Islands v Amechazurra44 ruled:
“x x x no private person is bound to keep arms. Whether he does or not is entirely optional with himself, but if, for his own convenience or pleasure, he desires to possess arms, he must do so upon such terms as the Government sees fit to impose, for the right to keep and bear arms is not secured to him by law.
“The Government can impose upon him such terms as it pleases. If he is not satisfied with the terms imposed, he should decline to accept them, but, if for the purpose of securing possession of the arms he does agree to such conditions, he must fulfill them.”
With that ruling, the highest court said in the Philippines, gun ownership is a privilege, not a right.
Thus, the authority of the government to prescribe rules on gun possession.
Legal gun possession has taken a roller coaster ride.
When the Chief of Constabulary (now Chief, PNP) was lenient on gun ownership (like Major Gen. Ramon Montano), the number of licenses issued shot up; but when the Chief was opposed to an armed citizenry (Maj. Gen. Renato de Villa and Director General Panfilo Lacson are examples), the number of issued licenses crash-dived.
Gun owners grin and bear the ups and downs of policies and just plod on in “legalizing” their gun possession when “good times” come.
Under the old law, Act 2711 issued during the term of Governor General Francis Burton Harrison (1913-1921), all guns by “fiction of law” were owned by the State.
Thus, the possessor or licensee was merely “borrowing” the weapon from the government and the weapon could be confiscated anytime for any reason.
That old law also instituted various penalties on illegal gun possession.
By 1983, 11 years after the imposition of martial law, then President Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree 1866 that integrated all issuances on firearms, including Act 2711, into a single law and harsher penalties on illegal gun possession were imposed.
Fast forward, when actor Robin Padilla (now a senator) was convicted of illegal possession of firearms in the 1990s, his fellow actor Sen. Ramon Revilla filed a bill that lowered the penalty for the offense to cut short Padilla’s Muntinlupa sojourn.
A cooperative Congress passed the bill and then President Fidel V. Ramos (for whom Padilla campaigned during the 1992 presidential elections) signed it into law.
Thus, Padilla was released early and was later granted an absolute pardon, allowing him to run for the Senate in 2022.
When President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, a gun enthusiast and practical shooting afficionado, assumed office, gun ownership again took a plunge.
Aquino signed Republic Act 10591 on May 29, 2014, almost four years into his six-year term.
This law changed the concept of gun ownership. From being “property” of the State, guns were now deemed the property of the owners, as they should be.
Previously, guns were licensed to individuals, now the person is the licensee and his guns must be registered. Just like having a driver’s license and a motor vehicle.
The National Police then issued the regulations on licensing and registration.
At the start of the law’s implementation, licenses now called “License to Own and Possess Firearms” or LTOPF were good for two years while gun registration was for four years.
Realizing the awkwardness of the situation, General Lucas said licenses and registration have been made coterminous.
To grease the palm, a law signed by then President Rodrigo Duterte allowed gun licenses and firearm registrations to be valid for up to 10 years.
Both are renewable as early as six months before expiration.
To secure an LTOPF, an individual must take a drug test, pass a neuropsychiatric examination and have a National Police clearance (National Bureau of Investigation before the PNP established its own clearance system).
(Editor’s Note: A neuropsychological evaluation is a test to measure how well a person’s brain is working. The abilities tested include reading, language usage, attention, learning, processing speed, reasoning, remembering, problem-solving, mood and personality and more.)
The requirements have been reduced to three, a far cry from the five to eight requirements during the Aquino administration.
To assist gun owners, the National Police established a one-stop shop near the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue gate of Camp Crame in Quezon City.
Requirements are completed in half a day.
There is a spacious classroom type section where police personnel assist gun owners not familiar with the PNP FEO website that must be used when dealing with the agency.
Despite the leniency crafted under the law, more than 400,000 gun owners are still delinquent and their 500,000 or so guns are considered “loose firearms.”
(NP spent 10 years or so of his career as a newspaperman covering the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police and later the Philippine National Police. He was the first president of the PNP Press Corps.)