PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s proposal to arm civilian volunteers in fighting crime is “not a policy yet”, Malacañang said on Monday.
In a Palace press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said while President Duterte is “open” to the idea of arming anti-crime volunteers, the proposal still needs to undergo the process of completed staff work.
“Well, as you said, he is open to the idea pero wala pa naman pong finality (but there is no finality yet),” Roque said. “So that is not a policy yet, I’m sure it will be subjected to full staff work.”
Roque said he shares the view of Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Guillermo Eleazar that the proposal to arm volunteer groups is to ensure their own protection and to defend themselves against criminal elements.
“Siguro the best view expressed so far is the view of PNP Chief Eleazar which I share that kailangan intindihin naman natin na kapag ang mga volunteer groups ay mayroong banta sa buhay nila eh mayroon din silang karapatan na depensahan ang kanilang mga buhay,” Roque said.
Duterte floated the idea during the launch of the Global Coalition of Lingkod Bayan Advocacy Support Groups and Force Multipliers in Camp Crame on Friday.
In his message, Duterte recognized the efforts and support extended by the multi-sectoral groups to which he expressed his firm belief that through this coalition, the PNP can simply access, gather, mobilize and expand the pool of warm bodies and resources from different government agencies and sectoral organizations to complement the efforts of various law enforcement units in the fight against illegal drugs, insurgency, terrorism and in the implementation of health protocols.
“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.
In response, lawyer Jacqueline Ann de Guia, CHR spokesperson, said “arming civilians without proper training, qualification, and clear lines of accountabilities may lead to lawlessness and proliferation of arms that may further negatively impact on human rights situation in the country.”
Eleazar, however, assured that the President’s suggestion is to “encourage volunteerism and definitely not vigilantism”.
Eleazar also said Duterte’s recommendation aims to protect the civilian volunteers against the criminal elements, including members of the New People’s Army (NPA) — the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that is listed as terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
“Batid ng ating Pangulo at kami mismo sa PNP ang panganib na kakaharapin ng aming volunteers (The President, and even we in the PNP, know the dangers that our volunteers will be facing) 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 said in a statement on Saturday.
He said the rules and procedures include securing License to Own and Possess Firearms (LTOPF) which is a requirement before a civilian could buy a firearm, secure firearms license, and the Permit to Carry Firearms Outside Residence (PTCFOR).
If civilians are allowed to possess and carry firearms for as long as they comply with the rules and regulations of the law and are qualified to do so, Eleazar said there is no reason to prevent members of civilian volunteer groups to enjoy the same privilege.
“Walang dahilan para hindi sundin ang mga patakarang ito sa pagmamay-ari ng baril ng mga sibilyan (There is no reason for the civilians to follow these guidelines for owning guns) even with our efforts to enhance our relations with the community in fighting criminality, insurgency, and illegal drugs, among others,” Eleazar said.
Eleazar said Duterte’s call to arm civilian groups might be out of his strong desire to combat lawlessness in the society. Philippine News Agency