If you happen to live or do business in Manila, and require a firearm for home protection, you’ll be relieved to know that the Philippines has some of the most proactive gun laws in the Asia-Pacific Region, compared to its neighbors in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

American Influence

How this came to be can be traced back to the 40-year American occupation of the Philippines after Spain ceded the islands to the U.S. The Filipinos’ familiarity with and love for firearms, on the other hand, can be traced to the end of World War 2, when large surpluses of war materiel became available to the population. Older Filipinos still talk about the time that you could buy Thompson submachine guns on the street for a mere PHP100 which was, at the time, the equivalent of USD100. You will still find souvenirs from the Great War maintained for protection in some homes. One of the most popular remnants of the war are the M1 and M2 Carbines in .30 caliber, which are most revered in their Paratrooper (selective-fire) configuration.

In the southernmost regions of the country, on the other hand, you will find scores of M1 Garands and Browning Automatic Rifles in .30-06 which are prized for their sheer power, that have been passed down from one generation to the next.

What Living in the Philippines is Like

As anyone who has been there will tell you, Filipinos are a very friendly, hospitable people. They work hard and are not averse to working long hours in the pursuit of their careers and their professions.

The problem lies in the fact that the economic situation in the Philippines doesn’t exactly make it the best environment in which to live, work, or do business. It’s a country in which 95% of economic power is controlled by a mere 5% of the population, creating a large divide between the rich and the poor. Poverty approaches what can be called “epidemic” levels, with the corresponding consequences that accompany such a disparity.

This means that petty crime (especially crimes against property) are fairly common, hold-ups and robberies occur on a daily basis, and sometimes result in personal injury to the victims. Kidnappings still make the news from time to time, while car thefts and assaults are still a regular occurrence.

Over the past couple of years, President Duterte’s initiative against drugs has managed to reduce the incidence of drug-related and drug-fueled offenses, but local authorities still have their hands full insofar as controlling the number of offenses that occur on a daily basis is concerned.

To protect themselves, local politicians and important businessmen hire armed bodyguards for protection. Banks, shopping malls, and other high-risk businesses employ private security guards to safeguard their interests, and armed guards controlling the ingress to many facilities are a common sight. Most businessmen whom I spoke with also carry personal weapons for their own defense.

You need to be citizen to own guns in the Philippines, of course. Foreign businessmen living and working in Manila wishing to take advantage of this benefit, get around this technicality by marrying locals, and putting the firearms in their partners’ names. This affords them the advantage of keeping firearms for protection in their homes, but does not entitle them to carry firearms for personal protection.

The fact that its citizens are allowed to own and use firearms for personal defense makes the Philippines one of the few countries in Asia where citizens actively contribute to the maintenance of peace and order in society, and actively assist authorities in the suppression of criminal activity.

Many Philippine households maintain firearms for personal protection, and Philippine laws also permit duly-qualified individuals to carry firearms outside their homes for personal protection. The penalties imposed for the illegal possession and use of firearms are fairly stiff (drawing up to 20 years’ jail time) and would-be gun owners and firearm carriers are well advised to stay within the confines of the law.

Guns You Can Own in the Philippines

Exactly what type of firearms are Philippine gunowners allowed to possess?

Practically every type of firearm a gun dealer can stock—from the new high-powered Smith and Wesson revolvers in .460 and .500 Magnum to the latest concealed-carry favorites like Ruger’s .380 LCP. There was a time that the ownership of fully-automatic weapons such as Norinco’s Type 56, Colt’s M4 and Heckler and Koch’s MP5 was permitted, but those days are coming to an end, with police authorities balking at licensing such items, except under very special circumstances, such as for VIP protection. The threat level to the individual wishing to own such items is also taken into consideration, before authorization is granted.

But apart from that, you can own practically any type of rifle, shotgun, or handgun you may require for home defense and personal protection.

There is an obscure provision alluding to the need for secure storage when firearms are kept at home, but this requirement is not actively enforced. Police authorities in the Philippines are smart enough to recognize that for a firearm to be effective as a defensive tool, it needs to be available at arm’s reach at all times. Hence, most homeowners will keep fully-loaded guns in the bedroom, conveniently located to deal with any prospect of a home invasion.

Popular Carry Guns in the Philippines

Glocks and polymer-framed 9mm’s such as S&W’s M&P series are popular as carry guns in the Philippines, along with traditional 1911-pattern .45 ACP classics. Smith and Wesson j-frame revolvers also make an occasional appearance, usually in .38 Special or in .357 Magnum.

There is also a small segment that gravitates towards “mouse guns”—-small, easily-secreted handguns in calibers ranging from .22 long rifle to .380 ACP. These are carried either as primary or “backup” weapons in more knowledgeable circles.

Shooting Sports

Possibly because of the reason for which guns are owned and carried in the country, the most popular shooting discipline in the country is IPSC competition. As a sport, this discipline trains and fosters the practical use of firearms for personal protection, which probably explains its popularity among Filipino shooters. In law enforcement circles, the focus is on 3-gun events, which train in the use of the rifle and the shotgun, in addition to the use of sidearms.

Airsoft and paintball skirmishing are equally popular, because they simulate the force-on-force exchanges that occur in actual shootouts.

The more affluent members of Philippine society have been taking up trap and skeet shooting of late, possibly because these activities are best conducted on wide open spaces that most members of this group have exclusive access to. The sport also espouses the use of expensive, high-end equipment, most of which is beyond the means of many Filipino shooters.

Learning How to Shoot

Obtaining instruction in the use of firearms is a fairly straightforward affair in the Philippines. You can visit a commercial firing range and ask any of their personnel to instruct you. You can also ask a licensed shooter to provide you with private instruction, without having to bother with any paperwork whatsoever. There is no limit to the amount of instruction you may obtain, and this is one reason why the Philippines has been able to produce an outstanding crop of world-class shooters over the past decades, ever since Jethro ‘The Jet” Dionisio made his debut on the U.S. shooting scene almost 50 years ago.

The License to Own and Possess Firearms (LTOPF)

While obtaining a License to Own and Possess Firearms (popularly dubbed as an “LTOPF” can be a tedious and time-consuming process, The police authorities have done their best to streamline the process in recent years, to encourage more citizens to comply with the laws governing firearms ownership.

In essence, the LTOPF is your passport to owning a firearm and keeping one at home for personal protection. It allows you to purchase guns and ammunition, and is a prerequisite to obtaining a Permit to Carry Firearms Outside Residence (PTCFOR) which is similar to concealed carry permits in the U.S.

When the requirement for a LTOPF was first instituted, assembling the requirements to obtain one was a tedious and time-consuming process. You needed separate clearances from Municipal and Regional trial courts (which in turn required a Police Clearance as a prerequisite); you needed to be a member of a recognized gun club and have completed a gun safety course; you needed clearances from the National Bureau of Investigation and the Directorate of Police Intelligence, clearance from the Barangay (village) in which you reside (which required you to have a voter’s ID and other proofs of residency, a copy of your latest Income Tax Return, the results of a drug test, and successfully passing a neurological exam to determine your mental fitness to own and use firearms.

Gathering the requirements necessary to qualify for a LTOPF is somewhat easier today. Applicants are still required to obtain clearances from the National Bureau of Investigation, the Police Directorate of Intelligence, and to successfully pass a drug test and a neurological exam, apart from paying the requisite fees.

There are five district classes of LTOPF, depending on how many firearms you intend to purchase and maintain in your name. A Class 1 LTOPF entitles you to own up to 2 guns; for those with 20 or more firearms, a Class 5 LTOPF is required. There are also subcategory licenses for sports shooters, which effectively permit you to transport in excess of 50 rounds of ammunition at any given time (as when joining organized competitions).

Individual Firearms Registration

A major difference between firearms ownership in the Philippines and the U.S. Is that in the former country, every firearm is individually registered. The police keep track of the individual serial numbers of every firearm, and maintain ballistic records of projectiles fired through every weapon registered to every gun owner.

This ostensibly assists the authorities in identifying weapons whenever a firearm has been used in the commission of a crime, and probably constitutes a major deterrent against the misuse of firearms.

Permit to Carry Firearms Outside Residence (PTCFOR)

Permits to Carry Firearms Outside Residence (or PTCFORs) allow the bearer to transport firearms from their homes to firing ranges, to where they work, or to their place of business. The rule here is that everything has to be conducted in strict concealed-carry mode. The permit itself specifies that the firearms in transit be “cased”, but in this instance, holsters are considered an appropriate mode of transport. Alternatively, you can also use a carry bag or purse to conceal your guns and ammunition. The Permit also specifies that a maximum of 50 rounds may be carried with the weapon of choice, which may be considered adequate in most defensive scenarios.

The main stipulation here is that only handguns may be carried outside the home. I have yet to see a Permit to Carry issued for a rifle, a shotgun, or any type of long arm.

The cost of acquiring a Permit to Carry Firearms Outside Residence (PTCFOR) is rather steep at Php6,000 (about USD118) for private individuals, although it can be argued that this is a small price to pay when your personal safety or your family’s protection is on the line. It should also be noted that this price drops to a mere Php200 (about USD3.95) once a firearm holder achieves Senior Citizen status at the age of 60.

To obtain a PTCFOR, you will need your LTOPF, clearances from the National Bureau of Investigation and the Police Directorate of Intelligence. Initially, you may also be asked to present a threat assessment to lend credence to your application for a permit to carry a firearm outside your home. This can be obtained by coordinating with your local police precinct. They usually respond by sending an officer over to interview you and assess your personal circumstances.  An assessment is usually issued within the month, whenever such documentation is required.

Election Gun Bans

The only flies in the ointment, so to speak, are the frequent “gun bans” imposed by the country’s Commission on Elections (COMELEC) during periods leading up to (and following) political campaigns for office and national elections. Because of the way the country’s elections are scheduled, these events occur every two years, on average.

Philippine gun bans last anywhere from 3 to 6 months at a time, and effectively prevent authorized concealed carriers from employing their handguns for personal protection.

Local gun rights advocates say that these bans are totally unnecessary, and do not actually stem the tide of pre- and post-election violence in the country. The concerned citizens groups say that what the bans actually do is disarm peace-loving and law-abiding citizens, leaving them at the mercy of criminal and other nefarious elements.

There are those who argue that the gun bans that the COMELEC imposes should only apply to long arms, and that is probably the best way to go. Long arms, after all, are more powerful than handguns, and are traditionally employed as offensive weapons, whereas handguns are used mainly as defensive weapons of last resort.

Whether the current situation is eventually resolved in favor of the country’s concealed carry proponents remains to be seen. For now, locals in dire need of 24/7 protection must rely on expensive bodyguards from privately-licensed security agencies which obtain exemption from the carry bans, (or on specially-assigned police escorts for VIPs) to cover themselves during such periodic gun bans.

A System That Works

All told, police authorities in the Philippines do an admirable job of regulating the ownership and utilization of firearms within the country. The only thing I can think of that might be lacking is a proper familiarization course to help firearm carriers determine when they are within their rights to employ their weapons—some training that will define the situations when and when not to draw their guns. Such training would necessarily involve legal and moral issues, and might best be conducted by legal experts specializing in that field.

Apart from that, the entire system is fairly robust and appears to work quite well, within the context of a society still struggling with rampant criminality and widespread episodes of petty crime. The truth is, there are still not enough law enforcers to go around, and ordinary citizens have to take it upon themselves to protect themselves, their families, and their property. The fact that they are allowed to take personal responsibility for their safety and well-being goes a long way towards instilling a sense of self-sufficiency and fostering self-empowerment, that is in harmony with the Philippine psyche.

Whether neighboring countries in Asia will choose to follow suit is highly questionable—you actually have to trust your own citizens, before you can do what the authorities are doing in the Philippines. And this may be the most difficult hurdle of all for other governments in the Asia-Pacific region to overcome.

The Challenge For Other Asian Countries

The truth is that most countries in the Asia-Pacific region choose to maintain nanny-type governments, in which authorities vow to protect their citizens, in return for citizens giving up their right to self-protection. The trouble with such models is, of course, that they don’t always work. Like they say in the U.S., when seconds count, help is usually minutes away.

I suppose that the first step is for governments in the region is to acknowledge that their respective bodies politic are made up of responsible and trustworthy citizens, who would be better served by being allowed to fend for themselves insofar as personal protection is concerned, instead of becoming permanently dependent on Big Brother. This sort of thinking fosters independence and self-reliance, which are essential building blocks for any progressive society. It also reduces the need to maintain large law enforcement organizations, and creates a large base of armed citizens whose skills and resources can be called upon for the protection of the state in times of war and civil unrest.

Whether governments in the region can relinquish their absolute monopoly on power or not, and permit their citizens to look after their personal protection, will determine whether any change for the better occurs in our lifetimes, or not.