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Small Arms and Light Weapons February 7, 2007

Posted by s511 in Speeches.
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Closing Remarks delivered during the Parliamentarians for Global Action Asian regional workshop on Small Arms and the Arms Trade Treaty, February 7, 2007, House of Representatives

I would like to thank all of you for taking the time to attend this very relevant gathering.

The issue of illicit trade in small arms and light weapons could not come at a more opportune time.  It has been reported that 638 million small arms around the world, and that by 2020 the number of deaths caused by these weapons will outnumber of deaths caused by malaria, for example.  In the Philippines, the small scale gun manufacturing business is booming fueled in part by the longstanding conflicts in Mindanao and the communist insurgency.  There are about 415,000 small arms in the country today, their manufacture and use fuelling further internal conflict and threatening our pursuit of peace based on justice.

With these guns in circulation, we remain vulnerable as a society to the hazards and hardships that violence continues to inflict on our collective psyche.  This seemingly endless cycle must be rooted out and stopped once and for all.  In fact we have just recently approved at the bicameral conference committee between the House and the Senate a P10-billion compensation bill that awards damages both material and non-monetary to victims of human rights violations during the 20-year dictatorship of former president Ferdinand Marcos.

It is fitting to remember that period in history when democracy in the Philippines was held, quite literally, at gunpoint, and how this bill we just approved and hope to pass into law in the next few weeks reminds us of what happens to a society when violence and lawlesness prevail.  Guns have no place in a civilized world, and a dictatorship that exudes power from the barrel of a gun only serves to remind us of this truth.

Nowadays, with election fever starting to heat up in the country, the issue of peaceful and violence-free elections becomes more important for us in the business of struggling for peace and radical reforms.  The proliferation of small arms will undoubtedly impact on the elections here given the highly polarized situation where you have a beleaguered central government exerting all efforts to consolidate and win more electoral posts at the national and local levels.

This context offers a wide opening for the use of violence in backward areas especially where the rule of law is inconsistent and subject to local power plays between a disempowered electorate and an influential and rich few who can always make use of guns, goons and gold to capture political power.

Furthermore, the unabated killing of activists, peasants, trade union leaders, grassroots leaders and journalists promotes a culture of impunity that emboldens more and more people to take the law unto their own hands, and the inability or unwillingness of government to decisively resolve such killings is only underlined by the fact that guns are easily available in the Philippine black market today.

This conference highlighted the urgency of taking concrete measures to address the problem of small arms, and by extension the larger questions of violence and human rights.  It focuses the spotlight on the need to come up with codes of conduct to regulate small arms transfers, create registers to better monitor where such easily available guns go, to whom and for what purposes, etc.  Until in the end we will have hopefully a gunless society where social grievances are addressed not with the threat of force but through the realization of human rights for the poor and marginalized.

This gathering allowed participants at the regional level to share experiences and prospects together and from there hopefully we can continue with our dialogue and networking efforts to help solve this problem once and for all, as we do so with other issues that our friends and allies in the Parliamentarians for Global Action work around, such as the ICC.

Small arms claim the lives of about half a million people every year, wherever they are found — in conflict areas, in urban slums, rural plantations, etc., and the loss of lives from an industry that feeds on ignorance and fear must be stopped.

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