Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration: The Mindanao Experience
III. Vectors of Small Arms in Mindanao:An Overview
In 1998, the Philippines had about 330, 000 loose firearms in the possession of gun enthusiasts, political warlords, criminal syndicates and even government officials and employees.64 From 1993 to the 1st quarter of 1999, 3,423 or 93% of the 3,670 firearms involved in criminal cases were unlicensed.65
The Partisan Armed Groups (PAGs)66 [previously known as Private Armed Groups] also contribute to the proliferation of unlicensed firearms in the country. As of September 1998, the PNP has identified 93 Partisan Armed Groups, with 2,129 members and 1,072 firearms.67
There are some 45 firearms manufacturers, 522 authorized dealers, and 133 gun repair shops in the Philippines as of April 1998, according to the PNP Firearms and Explosives Division (FED). Gun smuggling is also prevalent, given that smuggled firearms cost cheaper and no documentation is required to market or possess them.
The main sources of uncontrolled firearms (loose firearms) in the Philippines are the unregistered local gun manufacturers, mostly concentrated in Danao and Mandaue cities in the Visayas. Firearms are then shipped to Manila and other provinces in Visayas and Mindanao aboard passenger and fishing vessels. Filipinos returning from abroad also reportedly smuggle firearms, either for business or private use.
Firearms are also smuggled in the country through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the maritime ports in Luzon and Mindanao. In Manila, gunrunning activities are prevalent in Cavite, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Batangas and Palawan.68 Gunrunning is heavily concentrated in the Visayas, where firearms smuggled out of the country (i.e., Japan) are manufactured.69
From 1991 to March 1997, the National Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (NLECC) has intercepted 334 assorted firearms.70 In 1992, a big shipment of 5.56 mm US made rifles (originating from Vietnam) were unloaded in Mindanao and reportedly purchased by local officials.71 From 1992 to March 1998, the Philippine Navy conducted 142 anti-gunrunning operations that resulted into the apprehension of 55 vessels, 52 persons and the seizure of P 5.7 million worth of firearms.72
The Mindanao Situation
Why Arms Proliferate?
Various reasons contribute to the accumulation of firearms in Mindanao. The armed groups attributes this accumulation to their long history of fighting [please see the foregoing discussion on the 'secessionist factor'].
On an individual level, possession of firearms offers security, power and prestige. A belief common with many communities is that the more arms one possesses, the braver he becomes.73
The prestige lent to firearms possession is considerable, such that it is used as a political tool should a person runs for political office. A "show of force" affords one candidate a high chance to be elected in public office.74
It is also suggested that the "culture" among Muslims necessitate the possession of firearms. The acquisition of a firearm is likened to someone living in a city and the need to buy a car [as a luxury item] - attributing such acquisition of a firearm is associated with the prestige and power that goes with it.75 The possession of a newer or better version of a firearm or firearms allegedly increases the chances of a suitor trying to win a girl's hand as such would lend him more prestige and a "macho" image. The acquisition of a new firearms is even made known in the entire neighbourhood in order to increase one's "respectability" in his community.
For socio-economic and security reasons, a person also needs arms to protect his livelihood, farm and farm animals, particularly the carabao.
Ironically, in the interviews and informal discussions conducted in Mindanao, no one cited the need for self-defense, unlike in Metro Manila, where gun owners possess guns for self-defense due to the "present peace and order situation which is not one of the best."76 Some view this ownership of gun as a Filipino trait, especially those in Cavite and Mindanao who are known for "their fascination for guns."77
The proliferation of firearms in Mindanao can further be attributed to the relatively easy access and affordability of "paltik" [locally made firearms]. Firearms also change hands, something which is reflected in their relative cost, which increases as it is handed from one seller to a buyer to another buyer.78 Prices vary according to the origins and urgency of the disposal: a 9 mm would cost around P25,000, a cal. 45 around P24,000, and an M 16 at P26,000.79 Firearms acquired by Christians are not sold to Muslims and vice versa, given the reported feelings of mistrust between Muslims and Christians.
The prevalence of gunrunning/smuggling of firearms has been attributed to the country's geographic configuration; the prospects for huge profits; the increased connivance between gunrunning syndicates and corrupt law enforces; and the persistent involvement of political and influential families in these activities in order to beef up their private armies.80
One more factor that propels the arms trade is the existence of family/clan disputes among the "rich" sectors in Mindanao. These disputes are typically violent in nature; hence, families continually purchase arms to update their arsenal. In this light, gun smuggling operations whether for profit or personal use also increases.
Finally, another important factor is the socio-religious dimension for Muslims who had "equated the right to carry arms with their religious heritage".81 A Qu'ranic verse encourage the use of weapons as a preparation against oppression, and have been used to justify the possession of firearms.82 To this end, Muslims are reportedly "enjoined, obliged, commanded to arm themselves to prepare against oppression/injustices."83 and the secessionist movement is premised, in part, on the grounds that "the Muslims have the duty and the obligation to wage jihad (holy war) physically and spiritually to change the Moro homeland to Daral-Islam (House of Islam)."84 This view is expressed by MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat, who has stated that: "the achievement of a just peace is an objective which every individual or group with sound mind must pursue by all means even by means of war because a just war is better than an unjust peace."85 In the same light, Christians are arming themselves for security reasons.
Hence, it is typical to see weapons in public places. For instance, in the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, security guards are heavily armed with among other weapons M14 and M16 firearms. The Office of the Regional Governor in Cotabato City is similarly secured with heavily armed men. For people in Mindanao, the general perception is that possession of weapons is an ordinary fact of life; they are used to it, and others have grown old with it. For them, not much has changed over the years.
The Secessionist Factor
As of June 1999, military intelligence statistics suggested that there were 11,777 firearms in the possession of the Southern Philippines Secessionist Groups alone (i.e., MILF, Abu Sayyaf, and NICC/MILO), up from 4,300 in 1976 (prior to 1996 figures include the MNLF). Its peak number of 17,800 firearms in 1995, dropped to 7,230 in 1996 but is steadily rising since then. These statistics, however, do not include the firearms in the possession of communist insurgents, criminal syndicates, political clans or individuals.
To reiterate, the illegal arrival of arms became prevalent in Mindanao in the aftermath of World War II as politics turned violent and gunrunners took advantage of the island's geography. The influx of these weapons became even more prevalent with the rise of pro-independence movements for a Muslim Mindanao. With the common exception being that the greatest level of armament in the past of Muslim took place during the period of Martial Law86 The experience of the Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina is commonly taken as an example of Muslims being killed because there were no "mujahideen"; hence, the logic maintains, they [the Muslims] have to prepare so it will not happen to them again.87 As early as 1969, the emerging MNLF had garnered foreign support to include arms and military training. At first, arms were reportedly from communist sources, particularly China.88 Later on, at the height of the MNLF offensive, Libya, Indonesia and Malaysia were identified as possible sources of firearms.89 Libya's Qaddafi publicly declared that he had given arms and funds to Muslim dissidents in the Philippines.90 No evidence linked Indonesia as a source of arms and Kuala Lumpur denied interference in Philippine affairs.91 Yet, the first 90 mujahideen, including Misuari and the MNLF's first Central Committee, were given military training in Pulau Pangkor Island, Perak, Malaysia, arriving through Sabah in 1969,92 under British tutelage according to one interviewed trainee.93 Then Sabah's Chief Minister Tun Datu Mustapha Harun allowed Sabah to be used as a training camp, supply depot, communications center and sanctuary for the MNLF from 1972 to 1976.94
Libya and Sabah/Malaysia were the main but not the only sources of MNLF's foreign support during its early critical years. In particular, small boats equipped with powerful outboard motors ferried arms from Sabah's port of Sandakan to Mindanao. These included Belgian rifles, anti-personnel mines, grenades, plastic explosives, Browning carbines, and tens of thousands rounds of ammunition.95 Such hardware reportedly came from "Persian Gulf sheikdoms" using the Sabah government's private jets, and, on occasion, a chartered flight from Pakistan.96 According to various accounts, substantial financial support also came from Saudi Arabia97 and Iran98, these same accounts suggest that the MNLF was given access to military camps operated by Syria, Egypt, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).99
Sources of Firearms in Mindanao
In contemporary times, the following are attributed as sources of firearms in Mindanao:
military and police (firearms legitimately lost or declared lost during armed encounters between government and separatist forces or stolen from military and police arsenals);100
unlicensed manufacturers of caliber .38 and .45 pistols in Western Mindanao and Zamboanga;
unreturned firearms during the coup attempts in the 1980s, where a number were declared lost but which instead likely reportedly sold to the secessionist forces;
foreign shipments, reportedly from Afghanistan;
gunrunners based in Southern Mindanao (particularly in Agusan, Surigao, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga) who sell firearms to ideological groups or local bandits;
rebels' manufacture of their own weapons, including assault rifles and rifle-propelled grenades.
In general, only a few smuggling activities have been monitored. Of these, law enforcers has successfully interdicted only a few smuggling operations. It is even possible that gun smuggling in certain areas are flourishing under the connivance corrupt law enforcers and smugglers. In such instances, gun smugglers usually use commercial vessels and conceal the firearms stored within, or use middlemen to unload undeclared firearms. These weapons are smuggled in as:
undeclared or misdeclared items that are included with other goods and consigned to fictitious names and addresses;
dismantled pieces included among other metal items, typically machinery parts that are exported and imported legally; and
cargoes that are dropped sometimes from the vessels at pre-arranged areas some distance from the shore and later picked up by small boats for transportation to safe areas.101
In Mindanao, smuggling usually occurs in the "Southern backdoor", the extensive sealanes and isolated coastal areas in the provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Zamboanga. This area is also used by secessionist groups as the delivery point of assorted firearms from contacts in Sabah, Malaysia.102 Other gunrunning areas are in the provinces of Agusan, Misamis, Surigao, Maguindanao and Zamboanga. Most commonly smuggled-in firearms are: pistols (.357 and 9 mm), rifle (5.56 mm and 7.62 mm), Garand rifles (.30), sub-machine guns (.50) and shotguns (12 gauge).103
Except for individual shipments (i.e., total number of firearms in each monitored or apprehended shipment), government sources have no aggregate data on the total number of smuggled armaments from various sources. For instance, data gathered only covers the occasional apprehension of arm shipments, but the total number of arms shipments in Mindanao are largely unmonitored. Government data compilation efforts typically focus more on the total number of firearms in the possession of secessionist or private armed groups.
The funding for the arms supply in Mindanao varies according to the end-user and the sponsors of the organization. For instance, the MILF reportedly procured arms through various sources. In one report, the MILF expected a shipment of some 3,000 assorted high-powered firearms and tens of thousands of assorted ammunition (Kalashnikov firearms to anti-tank rockets and landmines) from Afghanistan through funds from Osama bin Laden.104 Military intelligence reports also cited that assault rifles and rocket launchers were delivered to the MILF [forthcoming the MILF denied, saying it manufactured its own firearms].105 In addition, military reports have monitored the landing of 15 M14 and 1,485 M16 rifles plus 30 wooden crates of assorted ammunition from Lebanon in May 1994 which were intended for the MILF.106
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) also has been monitored by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) for its shipments of smuggled weapons and ammunitions from foreign sources.107
There are also reports that financial funding for socio-cultural activities or money raised from Muslim communities may have been diverted to buy arms.
64 Country Paper on Illicit Trafficking and Manufacturing of Firearms: Philippine Context, Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC), 1999, p. 5.
65 Ibid., p. 6.
66 According to the PNP's Intelligence Directorate, a Partisan Armed Group is an organized group of more than 3 persons with legally issued or illegally possessed firearms, utilized in the conduct of criminal and/or oppressive acts primarily for the advancement and protection of the vested political and economic interests of a public official or private individual. This definition excludes groups that are purely criminal in nature.
67 PNP Report on Partisan Armed Groups, 1999.
68 "Firearms Smuggling" in a Concept Paper on the Philippine Experience on Transnational Crime,PNP,1997, p. 55
70 PNP Firearms and Explosives Division as cited in Jose Olaivar, "Proliferation of Firearms and its Impact on Regional Security: A Perspective from the Philippines," Paper presented at the Third CSCAP Meeting on Transnational Crime, Pasig City, 23-24 May 1998, p. 9.
71 Ibid., p. 10.
72 Ibid., p. 12.
73 Interview with Supt. Abdelgardan Indanan Alih, Battalion Commander, Special Mobile Group, Camp SK Pendatun, Parang, Maguindanao, Provincial Regional Office, ARMM, 27 October 1999.
74 Interview with Prof. Zainal Kalidtod, Mindanao State University, Marawi City, 29 October 1999.
75 Interview with an MNLF Integree, Camp SK Pendatun, Parang, Maguindanao, 27 October 1999.
76 Poch de Castro, President, Peaceful, Responsible Owners of Guns (PROGUN) as cited in "Pinoys say no to gun" Philippine Star , 22 March 1999.
77 Francisco Calado, Official of the Philippine Practical Shooting Association (PPSA) in Ibid.
78 Interview with an MNLF Integree to the PNP, Police Officer 1, Special Mobile Group, Camp SK Pendatun, Parang, Maguindanao, 27 October 1999.
80 PCTC paper, p. 15.
81 T. J. S. George, p. 191.
82 Interview with Prof. Zainal Kalidtod.
84 Mercado, "The Moro People's Struggle for Self-Determination".
85 Malik Mantawil "FirstUlama Summit: Bangsamoro Homeland" Homeland, March-April 1998, Cotabato City, 5(2), p. 4.
86 Interview with Prof. Zainal Kalidtod.
88 T. J. S. George, p. 231.
89 Ibid., p. 232.
90 Nehemia Levtzion, International Islamic Solidarity and its Limitations (1979), 28 citing The Times (London) (17 August 1972), and Conflict Studies, 41 (December 1973).
91 Ibid., p. 233.
92 Sali Wali, "On the Birth of the MNLF," (7 September 1980). He was a member of the MNLF's First Central Committee and wrote this account after he joined the government.
93 Madale, p. 182.
94 Che Man, Muslim Separatism: The Moros of Southern Philippines and the Malays of the Southern Thailand (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1990) p. 139, citing Lela Garner Noble, "Roots of the Bangsa Moro Revolution" 4(97) (1983) Solidarity, pp. 41, 43.
95 T. J. S. George, p. 235.
96 Ibid., p. 236.
97 Che Man, p. 141.
98 Ibid., p. 142.
99 RJ May, "The Moro Movement in Southern Philippines" in Christine Jennett and Randal D. Steward (eds), Politics of the Future: The Role of Social Movements (1989) p. 326.
100 Interview with military officers. Also interview with an informant, former New People's Army member in Central Mindanao Region, now sympathetic to the MILF, Cotabato City, 25 October 1999.
101 Merliza M. Makinano. Transnational Crimes: New Risks to Philippine Security (Quezon City: Office of Strategic and Special Studies, Armed Forces of the Philippines, June 1999), p. 15.
102 "Firearms Smuggling" in a Concept Paper on the Philippine Experience on Transnational Crime, PNP, (1997), p. 54.
104 Tempo Online (22 February 1999) and "3000 guns for rebels arriving?" Manila Bulletin (22 February 1999).
105 Tempo Online (March 20, 1999).
106 AFP Briefing Paper on the Secessionist Movement, unpublished.
107 Manny Mogato, "In Search of a New Enemy", Politik (May 1995), p. 38.