By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
President Benigno Aquino III may not like the “wang-wang” of emergency sirens, but it looks like he doesn’t mind the “bang-bang.”
This was the reaction of various groups after reports came out that personal friend presidential adviser Ronald Llamas owns a high powered assault weapon, specifically an AK-47.
The Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) has already issued the call for Llamas to resign from his post.
Last Friday, October 9, Llamas’ security aides figured in a traffic accident in Quezon City, and investigating traffic officers were shocked to discover an AK-47 assault rifle and bulletproof vests in the trunk of the Mitsubishi Montero belonging to Llamas. Llamas was, at that time, in Geneva, Switzerland, attending an executive committee meeting of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Two of his security aides Valderama Tecson and John Brilliant Alarcon were in the vehicle.
In a press conference on Monday, October 10, Llamas defended his ownership of the high-powered assault weapon, saying that there are threats against him and his family. These threats, he said, justified his possession of the gun which he reportedly acquired only last June. He said he had already sought the assistance of the Philippine National Police (PNP), but he nonetheless saw it fit to implement more measures to protect himself and his loved ones.
According to reports, Llamas already fired the two employees who were involved in the traffic mishap. The official said Tecson and Alarcon used his car for their own personal purposes without proper authorization.
Courage president Ferdinand Gaite said what Llamas has done was clearly an abuse of authority and that his conduct was unbecoming of a public official.
“Llamas with his arrogance and lack of delicadeza has no place in public service. There is simply no justification for what he has done. If there are indeed threats to his life, Llamas should let the proper authorities handle it, instead of flaunting his trigger-happy tendencies by amassing a cache of high-powered firearms,” said Courage National President Ferdinand Gaite.
Reports quoted Chief Superintendent George Regis, director of the Quezon City Police District, as saying that the AK-47 was taken out of the Montero before police investigators arrived at the scene immediately following the accident. Regis told the media that this was highly irregular and smacked of an attempt at a “cover-up.”
ACT Teachers’ party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said President Aquino claims to be angry against “wang-wang” or the siren mentality “but his political adviser has bang-bang mentality.”
Gabriela Women’s Party-List Rep. Luz Ilagan said the Aquino administration is employing double-standards in the application of the law. She said President Aquino should look closer into Llamas’ culpability.
“it’s high time that Malacañang proves that it has moral ascendancy. The President should match his words with ac tion. The issue is not just why his political advisor was carrying these firearms. We should ask why he needs them and what special privilege has he,” Ilagan said.
Lax rules on gun ownership
Original laws on gun-owning and carrying were previously stringent.
Section 1 of Presidential Decree No. 1866 on firearms, number and types of types of firearms that may be possessed, stated that each individual may hold under license a maximum of only one (1) low-powered rifle caliber 22 or shotgun not heavier than 12 gauge and one pistol or revolver, not higher than caliber .38 except caliber .357 and caliber .22 center fire magnum and those which may later be classified by the Chief of the PNP as high-powered regardless of the type, make or caliber.
This 1991 law went on to state that officers and non-commissioned police officers, enlisted personnel in the active service and in the retired list of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) may hold under license a maximum of only one low powered rifle caliber .22 or shotgun not heavier than 12 gauge and one sidearm of any type or caliber.
It was also stated in the presidential decree that only commissioned officers in good standing of the reserve force of the AFP who are on inactive status may hold under license a maximum of only one low-powered rifle caliber .22 or shotgun not heavier than 12 gauge and one sidearm not heavier than caliber .45, except caliber .357 and caliber .22 center fire magnum and those which may later be classified by the C, PNP as high-powered regardless of the type, make and caliber.
Llamas has already admitted he possesses five firearms, two long firearms and three pistols, which are all duly-registered. He said all his firearms are registered under his name and are covered by both valid firearms license and permit to carry. According to observers, he has been authorized to own the weapons by an executive order issued by former president Joseph Estrada.
In his EO 194, Estrada ordered that “all citizens of the Philippines may possess firearms of any type and/or caliber; that such firearms are not classified as crew-served weapons (CSWs), light anti-tank weapons (LAWs), light machine guns (LMGs), anti-tank and anti-personnel recoilless rifles, bazookas, etc; Provided further, that such firearms are test-fired for ballistics, stenciled and properly licensed.” (Section 2 of the EO).
Llamas is one of the founders of the social democratic group Bukluran sa Ikauunlad ng Sosyalistang Isip at Gawa (BISIG) and Akbayan, a political party which President Aquino has described as a “major coalition partner.”
Courage also lambasted Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda’s obvious defense of Llamas.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda clarified, in an interview over government-owned radio station dzRB, that Malaca?ang will still be asking Llamas about why his bodyguards were carrying firearms when they figured in a road accident Friday.
“What I know is that those firearms are licensed so there should be no concern on the legality of those firearms but that’s the extent of my knowledge there,” Lacierda said.
“Lacierda and other Malacañang functionaries keep on spewing rhetoric about change and the “daang matuwid”, and yet the circumstances prove that nothing substantial has changed. Rank-and-file government employees, like most of the public, were hoping that the gun-toting Cabinet members of the Arroyo era were a thing of the past. Llamas’ case and Lacierda’s evident attempt to justify what Llamas has done show that this administration has its own brand of politics—guns are merely concealed yet present nonetheless,” Gaite pointed out.
Gaite also said President Aquino should prove his sincerity in going after erring government officials by conducting a thorough investigation regarding this matter and to hold Llamas liable if found guilty.
In the meantime, former senator and now Muntinlupa Representative Rodolfo Biazon said there is an urgent need for a stricter gun control law. He cited figures from PNP revealing that said loose firearms in the country number some one million.There is an estimated 1,110,372 loose firearms with the biggest concentration in National Capital Region. In a separate report, the PNP said 5,999 loose firearms were used in 5,752 crime incidents. Most of these weapons are owned by various politicians, warlords and criminal syndicates.
Blame falls squarely on employees
The Office of the Political Adviser (OPA) in the meantime issued a statement on the controversy. In the statement, the OPA put the blame squarely on the two aides of Llamas saying that they were instructed to use the vehicle to go to Llamas’ house and ensure it was secure in his absence.
“But the two proceeded to use the vehicle for their own personal purposes without authorization and against explicit office policies,” the OPA said.
The OPA said the firearm seen in a video footage taken by members of the media at the scene of the accident was duly registered with the appropriate authorities in the name of Llamas, and is covered by a valid firearms license.
“The firearm is kept for his personal security. Llamas gave explicit instructions before departing for abroad that the firearm be unloaded from the vehicle and safely secured, but apparently, the two staff members neglected to comply with these instructions,” the OPA said.
The Malacañang agency explained that immediately after the accident, Alarcon sent a text message to members of Llamas’ security detail to inform them of what happened. Members of Llamas’ security team rushed to the scene of the accident and secured the contents of the vehicle, which, apart from the firearm, included some of Llamas’ personal belongings.
“This was done to prevent the loss of the firearm and other items, particularly since bystanders had already gathered at the scene and had unrestricted access to the vehicle,” the OPA went on to explain.
The same day, staff members from the OPA accompanied Tecson, the driver, to the Commonwealth Avenue police station, and turned him over to the police. Tecson gave a voluntary statement to the police and was provisionally released subject to the final outcome of the police investigation.