President Rodrigo Duterte will embark today on a historic trip to Israel and Jordan, the first such visit of an incumbent Philippine President to the two countries.
In terms of the country’s defense and security, it is the Israel trip that bears considerable significance, particularly with President Duterte’s foreign policy shifting away from the traditional US-centric approach to an open policy of strengthening ties with other countries such as China, Russia, Japan and Korea.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the trip is expected to yield signed agreements on defense that could possibly include multibillion-pesos weapons deals for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
For lack of technology and manufacturing capability, the Philippines is dependent on imports for heavy weapons requirements of our armed forces.
But we can certainly go on a road to self-sufficiency in terms of small arms capability.
Policymakers should begin to consider the proposal of a police officer to legalize gun manufacturing in Danao City.
Danao has become synonymous with “paltik,” handmade copies of branded firearms produced in backyard workshops. Many of these are illegal gun manufacturers produce good quality firearms that are reportedly in high demand among members of the Japanese gang Yakuza.
Some talented Danao gunsmiths even produced smaller, yet equally deadly, versions of the Ingram sub-machine gun as well as copies of the AK-47 assault rifles.
Filipino gunsmiths are known for their ingenuity and workmanship. It was reputed that the round-burst switch of the M-16 rifle was a local design.
Filipino-made firearms are world-class. Arms Corporation of the Philippines, the biggest gun maker in the country, sells its products, which include pistols and rifles, in at least 60 countries.
It also introduced innovations that earned the admiration of many gun enthusiasts worldwide, such as the .22 TCM pistol. It looks and feels like the 1911 .45 caliber pistol but is chambered for the .22 round.
The bullet makes up for its small size with a velocity of over 2,000 feet per second giving it a strong impact and high penetrating power, yet produces very little recoil.
What makes the .22 TCM design even more astounding is that it offers interchangeable .22 and .9 mm barrels. With a barrel change, the gun can be fired using a standard .9 mm ammunition.
Another Filipino gun manufacturer, United Defense Manufacturing Corporation, is locally producing .45 automatics and assault rifles but mostly for the use of foreign clients.
While the Philippine National Police has expressed openness to use locally-manufactured firearms, local gun companies are hampered by bidding requirements that require a participating company to have a previous contract half of the budget for the intended weapons purchase.
If that’s a P5 billion deal, the local manufacturer must have a previous order for at least P2.5 billion just to qualify.
Aside from the legal restrictions and bidding rules, the local gun industry needs government support.
If the Danao gun industry is legalized and given adequate government subsidy to purchase necessary equipment and improve its manufacturing capability, it would go a long way in helping supply adequate firearms and ammunition to our military and law enforcers.
The Government Arsenal, which manufactures defense items, complained that while it has the skills to manufacture rifles for our soldiers and police it does not have the technology to do it.
Empowering our local gun manufacturers would also address logistical problems in the after-sales service as repairs can be done almost immediately.
It’s time we stop dependence on foreign gun suppliers and take advantage of local talent and skills in enhancing our defense and law enforcement capabilities, conserving much-needed foreign exchange resources at the same time.
Relying on our local manufacturers for our small firearms and ammunition requirement would literally give us the best bang for the buck.