Traditionally, officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP) have had the muzzles on their guns taped over for New Year’s Eve to discourage the indiscriminate discharge of their firearms. This year, it has been announced, they will be trusted to keep their guns functional and resist the temptation to fire them off in celebration.
Of course, there are other ways to stop law enforcement personnel from misusing their weapons, such as checks and balances, not allowing them to take their weapons out of the police station and – my personal favourite – a culture of self discipline.
Chief Supt. Camilo Cascolan, head of the PNP’s directorate for operations announced this week that the practice of muzzling guns will be discontinued. With the country in the midst of a bloody war on drugs and extra judicial murders rife, I have to ask myself if that is necessarily a good idea?
The directive has come down from on high with none other than “The Punisher’s” right-hand-man, Ronald ‘Bato’ de la Rosa being responsible for the edict. To anyone who has ever spent a New Year’s eve in the Philippine provinces, it is utterly terrifying. Fireworks make great cover for gunfire and with pretty much every household in the country holding their own display there is plenty of noise to mask a shot or two. Private gun owners are also notorious for wantonly discharging their weapons into the air as the clock strikes 12.
In an interview with The Inquirer, Cascolan said “For how many years, the PNP has been sealing muzzles of guns. But how will the people see that the police are disciplined and responsible enough?”
To this commentator, that isn’t the way to demonstrate the discipline of one of the world’s most famously undisciplined police forces. No other steps have been taken to discourage unnecessary firing of weapons. Surely it would make more sense, especially in the face of a mounting body count, to instead put measures in place to instil that trust in the population before you remove a precaution that helps to keep people safe?
Here are a few ideas:
• Do not allow cops to take their firearms with them when they are off duty.
• Check weapons on return to the police station for signs of recent firing that has not been reported.
• Limit the number of bullets with which police officers are issued and audit the bullets on return of the weapon at the end of the shift.
• Foster a culture of personal responsibility in the force.
Of course these are just a few ways that things could, very quickly, be resolved. I do not, however, think that it’s reasonable to remove the only safeguard that is currently in place. So many people have died as a result of deliberate action, how many need to be killed accidentally during the festive season? Even more of a concern is how many murders we’re going to see while the population has their heads turned skywards looking at the fireworks on the 31st?
So, for me at least, I’m planning to raise a glass for the sake of Auld Lang Syne in the comfort of my own home, and well away from the windows.
For more background on this story, see The Inquirer’s report here