August 7, 2006 at 11:15 am Leave a comment

If you want to stop terrorism, then curb the arms trade. One concrete step that government can take to stop the killing of journalists and political activists is for it to stop buying small arms and light weapons and to create stricter laws to regulate the use of firearms. Here’s a speech i delivered in support of the Control Arms campaign.


Privilege Speech by Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel
AKBAYAN Representative
August 7, 2006

Ginoong Speaker, mga ginagalang na kapwa kinatawan, magandang hapon sa inyong lahat! I rise today on a matter that kills more than half a million people every year worldwide.

Ginoong Speaker, there are 638 million small arms in the world. By 2020 the number of deaths and injuries from war and violence, which are aggravated by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, will overtake the number of deaths caused by killer diseases such as malaria and measles. In fact, no less than UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that “the death toll from small arms dwarfs that of all other weapons systems–and in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

In the Philippines, the longstanding conflicts in Mindanao and the decades-long communist insurgency and state counter-insurgency severely affect the economy and livelihood of common people and place women and children in hostile situations. Because of the high demand for weapons to fuel the insurgencies, the small scale gun manufacturing industry is a booming business. PNP statistics recorded 800,000 registered guns and 415,000 loose firearms in the country. The proliferation and uncontrollable spread of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) pose a serious threat to peace, safety, security and has also led to escalation of armed conflicts and adversely affects the lives of millions of people and innocent civilians, especially women and children.

SALW are used by all armed forces, including internal security forces for self-protection or self-defence, close or short-range combat, direct or indirect fire, and against tanks or aircraft at relatively short distances. Broadly speaking, small arms are those designed for personal use and light weapons are those designed for use by several persons serving as a crew. While small arms and light weapons are designed for use by armed forces, they are also of particular advantage for irregular warfare or criminal and terrorist action. Ginoong Speaker, small arms in irresponsible hands breed lawlessness and violence. We are for stricter gun measures and transfers and against the proliferation of small arms in conflict situations.

Internal conflict is a factor that contributes to the proliferation of arms. The presence of strong Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) in our country, such as the MILF and the NPA, which have been waging armed struggle as a means to achieving their goals, is a strong point that identifies with the creation of new laws regarding arms proliferation and a stringent implementation of existing regulations.

The recent spate of killings of political activists and journalists by motorcycle-riding assassins is another point that inarguably presents evidence to the accessibility of SALW to civilians and non-civilians alike. It also provides another proof that the growing arms trade encourages the use of illegal and legal arms illegally. Clearly, human rights are explicitly violated when indifference towards the proliferation of arms is widespread.

This year, the additional 1 billion budget for the Armed Forces would entail the purchase of more arms to strengthen the security sector and to finance the ominous all-out war against the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. These SALW are also prone to end up in the country’s arms black market and eventually into the hands of civilians, non-state armed groups and prospering criminal networks.

According to “Shattered Lives: The Case for Tough International Control”, a report by Amensty International, Oxfam, and International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), in Mindanao, 70% of the population owns one or more guns. Machine guns can be bought for as low as Php19,000 and revolvers for Php 750. The demand for small arms for protection, power and prestige is great and sources are various and complex. The illegal gun shops in Mindanao are a thriving industry with 45 local manufacturers of firearms providing the supply for local and international demands.

An Oxfam International paper for the 2006 UN Review Conference showed that the arms trade is fuelling conflict, poverty, state repression, crime, domestic abuse and human rights abuses in the Philippines. Violence, grave abuses and death tolls rise when Philippine institutions are passive in engaging the serious issue of arms. Unregulated weapons in irresponsible hands have produced massive human rights violations, injured the welfare of individuals and communities, seriously set back sustainable development and exacerbated conflict.

The proliferation of small arms reinforces a climate of fear and a culture of violence. For instance, the Mindanao conflict in 2000 showed that of the 190 conflict-related deaths found, 86% of the civilians were victims of small arms. Because SALW have led to the escalation of conflicts between the MILF and the military in Mindanao, entire communities have been displaced. 70% of the civilian population of Central Mindanao was displaced during the course of the government’s assault against the MILF. During this time, 300 children died of preventable diseases because inadequate healthcare. In the recent Maguindanao crisis, the 9-day conflict caused 20,000 individuals or 4,000 families to become internally-displaced persons (IDPs).

If a comprehensive peace process with NSAGs (MILF and NPA) is to be implemented, then the regulation of SALW to curb the availability of weapons is an essential component for the terminal phase of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation programs. The need for laws regarding arms transfers must be seen in the context of countering the culture of violence and criminality, and in implementing and sustaining peace agreements.

Ginoong Speaker, the proliferation of SALW impacts men and women in fundamentally different ways. Men, in fact, make up the majority of victims of SALW, which highlights the gendered nature of the problem. While men are more likely to make, sell, buy, own or use small arms and are more likely to be killed or physically injured by them, women disproportionately suffer from the availability and misuse of guns in relation to their usage and ownership.
Gun ownership is often closely related to conceptions of masculinity in society where SALW and gun violence are pervasive. In some cultures, boys receive guns as a part of coming of age rites.

In a 2003 report of Amnesty International and Oxfam International, the power of guns is inextricably linked with the notion of masculinity in both industrialized and traditional cultures. The power of guns is both symbolic and actual. Furthermore, the glamorization of gun violence in conjunction to hyper-masculinity has spread to many conflict zones and influences the way young men see themselves in the context of ongoing fighting, poverty and despair. We must strongly denounce the proliferation of small arms and its contribution in propagating gender inequality and in promulgating a culture of violence that enables the construction and continuance of a male-oriented society.

Violence affects women, men and children everywhere, cutting across boundaries of wealth, race and culture and weapons make this abuse worse. Whether it is violence in the family, on the streets or in armed conflict, weapons put women at a greater risk. Abundance of SALW increases the threat of intimidation and abuse of women and heightens the lethal nature of gender-based violence. Studies show that even in non-conflict situations, women are placed at a greater risk of being murdered by their partners or close relatives who have access to firearms. Threatening behaviours increase across cultures when SALW proliferate.

Constrained by fear of violence and exacerbated by the easy availability of SALW, women’s political participation, as well as our capacity to perform daily household functions such as food provision, water and fuel collection and other family sustenance activities, is severely curtailed. In a climate of fear and intimidation, women’s participation in all public sphere activities is constrained. Education, access to markets and formal employment all become more difficult under the threat of SALW violence.

What then, should be done? Five years ago, the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (POA) was approved, along with its proposed guidelines, the Global Principles for International Arms Transfers.

The Philippines neither signed nor ratified the UN Firearms Protocol but ironically supports the International Arms Trade Treaty. Indeed, the lukewarm and inconsistent support of countries like the Philippines has stunted the efforts of the international community to regulate the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. In fact, barely a month ago, the UN Review Conference on Small Arms collapsed without any substantive conclusion primarily because of strong dissenting positions from the US, Cuba, India, Iran, Israel and Pakistan. Until now, no effective international controls on small arms, abiding by the standards set by the International Humanitarian Law and international human rights exist.

Let us be at the forefront of waging peace, promoting human rights and countering the effects of violence in our region by developing, supporting and strengthening regional arms control agreements to uphold international human rights and international humanitarian law. As one of the pioneer members of the ASEAN, let us embody democratic values and uphold the sanctity of human life and human rights by supporting a regional and an international arms trade treaty. The following are proposed actions that we can spearhead:

1. At the national level, we must strive to improve our capacities and our own accountability to control arms transfers and protect civilians from armed violence in line with international laws and standards. This means having stricter regulation on access to SALW for private individuals and the State’s coercive arms. The Congress should call for the stricter implementation of existing legislations on the control, import, export and transit of arms and guarantee that human rights and international humanitarian laws do not suffer under commercial pressure.

2. The local government and civil society must take effective actions to improve safety at the community level by reducing the local availability and demand for arms.

3. The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police should both adhere to the global principles of arms transfers and the international humanitarian law, which should be the standards for the implementation of existing national gun laws.

4. The security sector must use guns discreetly and must abide by the UN Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the Geneva Conventions and other international standards.

5. We must create new laws that control the manufacture, trade, possession and use of all arms. Congress also has the power to establish an inter-agency oversight committee with the participation of civil society organizations like Philippine Action Network on Small Arms (PHILANSA) as members to address the issue of small arms.

6. Congress must ensure transparency and promote regular and meaningful dissemination of information to the public about the production, ownership and transfer of arms.

7. Congress should enact immediately the Philippine Comprehensive Landmines Bill (House Bill No. 2675 and Senate Bill No. 1861) and the Act Regulating the Possession of Licensed Firearms and the Carrying thereof Outside of residence and for Other Purposes (House Bill No. 2804 by Rep. Abaya).

8. The House of Representatives should urge the Senate to ratify the UN Firearms Protocol and endorse a regional and an international arms trade treaty to prevent the international transfer of arms to high risk destinations where arms can be utilized to commit grave human rights violations.

9. The Congress must lobby the executive to create or support regional treaties on arms controls that address the transfers of arms, and instituting effective measures to limit the supply and reduce the demands for weapons and also reduce the widespread availability of arms.

Unless the laws provide guarantees that small arms will not fall into the hands of abusers, innocent civilians will continue to suffer. Unless international laws on arms proliferation and transfers include the global principles of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, arms-related crimes and abuses, and atrocities of non-state actors will continue to flourish. Unless the Congress “bites the bullet” and performs its duty our people will live lives–in poverty, fear, violence and abuses—or die by the bullet. Now is the time for an Arms Trade Treaty. Let us help make communities safer! Let us control arms now!


Entry filed under: AKBAYAN in Congress, Speeches.

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