Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Alan Purisima visited Cebu last week and he chose quite an apt ceremony to shoot from the hip: during the presentation of seized loose firearms, mostly “paltiks” (Spanish slang for counterfeit) produced by illegal gunsmiths in Danao City.
The top police official came here to celebrate the 22nd founding anniversary of the PNP in the company of officers and members of the Police Regional Office 7. The event was a good cover to huddle with members of the regional police, whose current chief has been dragged in local political disputes.
As we know, the camp of suspended Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia has filed charges against PRO 7 director Marcelo Garbo, Jr. for his role in securing the governor’s office at the height of her suspension. The melee between regional policemen and Garcia supporters led Garbo to recommend the revocation of the gun licenses issued to the governor’s son. Garcia’s allies in Cebu City led by Mayor Mike Rama are also against Garbo but Director General Purisima came here not to reprimand Garbo but to stand by him. It’s an indication that Garbo will remain in his post until after the elections.
To spice up the visit of the PNP boss, Garbo presented him with 1,400 assorted firearms. It was unclear though whether the loose firearms were seized during raids of paltik factories or confiscated by the police from lawless elements.
As Purisima sized up the illegal hoard, he emphasized the need to intensify the campaign against loose firearms and illegal gun makers in Danao. The rise in criminality and efforts by unscrupulous politicians to build up their private armies to thwart the electoral process underline the importance of the drive. Cebu province has a number of election hotspots, where political tension could result in bloody confrontation in the run up to the May elections.
Purisima’s de cajon declarations would have passed unnoticed except that his remarks about the local paltik gun industry do not quite match up with reality on the ground.
Asked about the possibility of legalizing the counterfeit activity, Purisima said the prospect is rather dim because the solution would entail a lot of problems. He cited enforcement, documentation and especially marketing because according to him, “Sino naman ang bibili sa finished products nila? Baka yong mga illegal din” (Who would buy their finished products? It could be the lawless elements).
He suggested that Cebu’s counterfeit gun makers find employment in legal gun factories but in the same breath he also commanded his men to run after, arrest and prosecute those engaged in the illegal trade.
I’m not sure if Purisima has looked into the paltik industry because if he cares to visit Danao he will discover for himself that it operates very much like a backyard cottage industry without hassle from authorities.
I came across an article written by Manuel Mogato of Reuters which featured clips from a third-generation Danao gunsmith who made paltiks out of scrap metal and bits of angle iron inside the home premises. The guy practically grew up making guns, and inherited the trade from his father and grandfather.
Solving the problem by going hammer and tongs against the counterfeiters as General Purisima suggests is not easy because it would need the cooperation of government officials, who, as history suggests, do not want to touch the problem even with a ten-foot pole. There is also the factor of public backlash from families who depend on the activity. Purisima should ask his men based in the northern city if they are really running after paltik makers, or are they just cruising along as if way nahitabo.
If a solution has to be made, it requires first and foremost an acceptance that there is a problem. The government cannot proceed with solving a situation that for some officials don’t pose a problem at all. The obvious question is, are they in on the illegal trade?
The counterfeit gun industry in Danao City is not an ordinary problem because it is reportedly sustaining illegal activities even in foreign shores. I have received reports the Japanese underworld Yakuza has pirated some of Danao’s most creative paltik makers who make guns inside big transport vehicles. The mobile set up allows them to flee at once if authorities would pounce on them.