MANILA, Philippines—The Senate has approved on third and final reading Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s comprehensive bill on guns and ammunition that again imposes Marcosian penalties such as imprisonment of at least 30 years for illegal possession of firearms.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, the sponsor of Senate Bill No. 3397 and chairman of the Senate committee on public order, expressed confidence that the measure would pass Congress before the official start of the campaign period next week.
The Senate worked on the comprehensive gun control bill during its tight three-week nine-session schedule after returning from its Christmas break and before another recess that starts on Feb. 9 to make way for the election campaign.
The stiffer penalties on illegal acquisition and possession of guns and ammunition came in the wake of gun-related incidents such as the stray bullet killings of children in Navotas and in Mandaluyong during the New Year’s Eve revelry, the Kawit gunplay that killed eight and the Atimonan massacre.
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent incidents. This is a proactive measure with long-term implications,” Honasan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“We are hoping that this will be a deterrent and so it will rely on strong public support,” Honasan added.
Congress in 1997 enacted a law that brought down the penalties for illegal possession of firearms. Lacson said it was about time the penalties were brought back up.
“The penalties should be made harsher because many crimes are attributed to the use of firearms and the use of guns, the display of guns and the commission of crimes using guns have become too blatant,” Lacson told reporters.
“But more than that, the reason why [the proposed bill] is comprehensive is that even the safety features of how to use and how to possess guns are provided for. For instance, having a vault [for keeping the gun] at home. It also provides for which persons are authorized to possess and carry firearms,” Lacson added.
According to Honasan, public hearings on the proposed measure have shown that while there are 600,000 to 800,000 registered firearms in the Philippines, there are as many unlicensed guns across the country.
Aside from the stiffer penalties on illegal acquisition and possession of guns, Honasan said the bill would punish illegal distributors and manufacturers of firearms.
“It’s like [our strategy] in the dangerous drugs law, we intend to hit the source and go for supply reduction and, at the same time, demand reduction,” Honasan said.
Under the proposed bill, illegal possession of a small firearm is punishable with prision mayor (six years and one day to 12 years in prison) in its medium period; illegal possession of three or more small arms, reclusion temporal (12 years and one day to 20 years) to reclusion perpetua (at least 30 years); illegal possession of a Class A light weapon, prision mayor in its maximum period; and illegal possession of a Class B light weapon, reclusion perpetua.
The penalties imposed would be one degree higher if the firearms illegally possessed were under any or a combination of the following conditions: loaded with ammunition or inserted with a loaded magazine; fitted or mounted with laser or any gadget used to guide the shooter in hitting the target such as a thermal weapon sight and the like; fitted with sniper scopes, firearm muffler or firearm silencer; accompanied with an extra barrel; and converted to be fired semi-automatic or full automatic.
The bill passed on final reading in the Senate provides that only small arms may be registered by licensed citizens of licensed juridical entities for ownership, possession and concealed carry.
It further provides that a light weapon shall be lawfully acquired or possessed exclusively by the Armed Forces, the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies authorized by the President, “provided that private individuals who have licenses to provide Class A light weapons upon the effectivity of this act shall not be deprived of the privilege to continue possessing the same and renewing the licenses therefor.”
Arm smuggling and the unlawful manufacture, importation, sale or disposition of firearms and ammunition would be punished with as many as 30 years in prison.