In most parts of ARMM, only members of police-accredited gun clubs keep licensed guns both for sports and protection. Most local residents, especially those locked in clan wars, prefer to stockpile undocumented firearms. (JOHN UNSON)COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Muslim clerics are ready to support the enforcement of a general firearm registration amnesty program in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.But the group noted that this can only be done if the government puts up more courts in the area with judges courageous enough to litigate high-profile cases to establish the semblance of strong justice system.
For local sociologists and contemporary historians, it is the perennial lack of courts, judges and prosecutors in the ARMM that there is a strong culture of rido, or vendetta killings, among local groups.“If people in the ARMM can feel that there is a strong judiciary in all of its five provinces and two cities, surely, local residents will gradually appreciate the importance of seeking redress the legal way, through prosecution offices and the courts,” said Ustadz Esmail Ebrahim, executive director of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines.Ebrahim said aggrieved individuals, due to the virtual absence of the courts in the autonomous region, can easily exact revenge to get even with any offense done against them.“Islam has strong teachings against the use of weapons to scare people just to perpetuate political power. Guns must be used only for defense of land, race and religion. Justice, therefore, must prevail so that people would not seek revenge for any offense done to them,” said Ustadz Salman Abdullah, who studied Islamic theology in Libya in the late 1980s.Religious leaders in the ARMM are all in favor of a region-wide conduct of firearm licensing amnesty campaign, but one meant to address the deeper reasons why local residents have a strong love for guns.“We can influence people in our communities to have their guns registered,” said Imam Musa Sarikin, a Yakan preacher.There are more than 300 standing clan wars involving Moro families in the ARMM, mostly due to politics, crimes against property, land disputes and other irritants that may have simply been resolved in the courts.ARMM acting governor Mujiv Hataman pushed for a region-wide firearm licensing amnesty program to account for all loose firearms in the hands of ARMM residents.Most residents of ARMM, which covers Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in Central Mindanao, the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan, are known for their love for collecting guns both as status symbol and for protection.Hataman, however, said their plan would still need the imprimatur of President Aquino and the Department of Interior and Local Government.This as the functions of the Philippine National Police, the sole agency that has authority over gun licensing, management of gun clubs and the grant of permission for qualified individuals to carry guns outside of their houses, have not been devolved to the regional government.Hataman said his office, along with the PNP and DILG, can formulate measures to account loose firearms cautiously due to the strong centuries-old tradition of Southern Moro communities of keeping firearms both as status symbol and as protection from hostile clans.Hataman said he would recommend to the PNP the enforcement of a local firearm registration amnesty to enable the government to account loose firearms in a region.“We will also tap the support of the religious communities in the region to help us push forward this plan of putting an end to the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of loose firearms in the autonomous region,” he said.By police and military estimates, there are no fewer than 50,000 unlicensed guns, including assault rifles, shoulder-fire grenade launchers and M-60 and K-30 machineguns in the hands of private individuals and local officials in the region.These are on top of those kept by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.“We will support any firearm registration program in the autonomous region because the proliferation of loose firearms in the area is not good for the local economy. It condones political violence, and, thus, contributes to underdevelopment and widespread poverty,” said a peace activist, Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate congregation.