Living With Guns in the Philippines.
When I first came to the Philippines in 1983, one thing I readily noticed was the numbers of guys standing around with guns. They seemed to be everywhere. They could be packing anything, from a .38 cal pistol to a .45 cal semi-automatic, to an AR-15 style assault rifle or a sawed-off pump shotgun. Coming from the flatlands of Illinois (farm country), I was no stranger to hunting or the handling of guns. It’s just that I’d never experienced such an in-your-face display of weaponry in public. It instantly made for some uneasy feelings until I understood the reasoning and methodologies behind such a display of force. For someone who is about like-minded as I was, the initial thoughts were akin to that of arriving in a war’ing country or a place where danger lurks around every corner. Over time, I learned it was quite the contrary.
After seeing the latest news about yet another mass shooting in the U.S. (this time in San Bernardino, California), I recalled my days growing up and never remember this level of violence. Sure, there was the psychopath who murdered a bunch of nurses or the wacko who shot up a McDonald’s, but somehow this killing culture has become engrained in daily life. Yes, daily! While digging through some online news, I came across a graphic that illustrated how bad the situation actually is in the U.S. It is much, much worse than I or most people could ever imagine – check out this article and graphic to help gain an understanding of the severity of the ongoing crisis in America. While I strongly support the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, I do agree that the idea better screenings via stronger background checks must be visited to help keep guns out of the wrong hands – for starters anyway. And after spending so much time in this part of the world, I support open carry and the use of armed guards in all public venues and schools. The other issue would be along immigration lines but I will leave that topic alone for now.
After digesting all the information about gun violence currently being experienced in the U.S., I pondered the thought about our safety living here in the Philippines. While we have become well accustomed to the Philippine National Police (PNP) roadway checkpoints and all the security guys everywhere with weapons, this fact does not diminish the fact that the Philippines has its share of gun violence. The Philippines is in the top five countries in the world with the highest level of gun violence, along with Serbia, Russia, Yemen, and the U.S. The big difference though – many of the incidents of gun violence here are related to politics, gambling, or personal squabbles. It is actually rare for someone to enter a school or public place and open up on innocent civilians. And while the Philippines is included in that top five, the U.S. is so far out front of the rest of the group, it makes the other countries problems seem innocuous.
Security here in the Philippines is a serious business. When you have such a high level of poverty, and a history of sporadic rebellions, there needs to be a strong deterrent to theft and robbery, and uprisings, and understandably so. While the many private security agencies in the country are the ones providing security guards to malls, banks, businesses and schools, the PNP is there to protect government interests. Roadside checkpoints can be manned by either PNP or the Philippine Army and are designed to prevent the flow of illegal contraband and provide for screenings for illegal weapons and overall crime prevention. I was stopped once while driving my motorcycle at a local highway checkpoint and was asked to show my license and registration. While I had no license plate or registration, I provided them with a copy of my letter from the Land Transportation Office (LTO) stating that my registration had been applied for (9 months prior). They were professional, courteous and polite, and accepted my (expired) letter, and have never stopped me again. These days, they usually will acknowledge me with a head nod and big smiles when I pass by the checkpoint. I simply do not sport the look of a criminal I guess (to them, all us white guys look the same, I’m sure).
Whether my wife and I are visiting a large mall, a local retail establishment or just eating in a local restaurant, we have come to welcome the presence of armed security, many of whom will even open the door for you and greet you with a smile. The ones that my wife really appreciates are the guys at the bank posted outside next to the ATM machines! Sure helps keep everybody honest, in almost all respects. Recently, we visited the mall in Tacloban and when we arrived early, we witnessed the morning muster of a large contingent of mall security guards, just prior to the mall opening.
Although the general public generally tends to feel safer with all the armed protection in place, I tend to ponder certain questions like 1) How well-trained are they to recognize a situation for what it is, and 2) are they qualified to handle a particular situation. While the presence of a guy with a sawed-off shotgun might have a potential criminal thinking twice before hitting that store up in a robbery, the real question of that security guards qualifications come to mind. Of course, the jokes about security guards abound and range from having no bullets in the weapon (in the likeness of Barney Fife of the Andy Griffith Show) to how old the ammunition is and whether it would even work, or whether the guards even pay much attention to their surroundings much like “Asa” the sleepy bank guard at the Mayberry Bank (Andy Griffith). Many of them make great door greeters while others make good receipt checkers when exiting a store with a purchase. Some might even be really good at their security job! I can say this for certain – We worry very little about dangers from people with guns. The good guys with guns definitely outnumber the bad, and that is a good formula for safety.
I’m just glad I’ve never had to be an eye-witness to anything other than having a little assistance with parking the car!