Manila: The Philippine government is expected to implement stricter regulations on firearms ownership as President Rodrigo Duterte blamed easy access to guns and ammunition as cause for continuing insurgency and criminality.

Duterte said the government should improve the regulation of public ownership of guns, particularly high powered firearms and ammunition to prevent these weapons from ending up in the hands of criminals and rebels.

“So they [insurgents and criminals] have the money [to buy guns]. So we have to control [it]. If anyone has the capability to buy arms we should make sure who these persons are and if they are qualified to have guns,” Duterte said, during a speech at a recent business meeting in Davao City by the Association of Firearms and Ammunition Dealers of the Philippines Inc. (AFAD).

Under current rules on firearms and ammunitions, Republic Act 10591, which were implemented in 2013 during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, Filipinos can apply for permits to own guns for self-defence and recreation under certain conditions. These requisites concern mainly the age and reason why the applicant should be issued a license. Gun licence holders are also made to undergo comprehensive background checks involving the possibility that the individual had as record of irresponsible use of guns as well as psychological condition.

Republic Act 10591 also, for the first time since former President Ferdinand Marcos enforced Martial Law in 1972, allowed qualified Filipinos to legally own civilianised, semi-automatic versions of military weapons such as the M4.

The difference between the military versions is that the latter it can fire in full automatic mode or multiple bullets in a single pull of the trigger, while semi-automatic guns can only fire one round for every press of the trigger.

Rebels, as well as law enforcers, use automatic weapons, while civilians can only be given permits for semi-automatic guns.

But, Duterte, in his speech said, he may order the enforcement on limitations on these high calibre military-style weapons. The restrictions could be implemented even if these guns are not capable of firing in automatic mode such as those in the military and police.

Duterte cited the threat posed by the communist rebels who could steal the guns and use them against law enforcers as was the case in several incidents when insurgents would raid the armouries of mining companies and get the guns of private security guards watching over these establishments.

“The communist rebels are earning money through extortion from mining companies and large plantation owners,” he said.

Before announcing these planned restrictions on sales of certain firearms, Duterte, two weeks ago, prohibited the transport and sale to non-military and police personnel, of ammunition for high powered guns, particularly the 5.56mm and 7.62 calibres.

During the event in Davao City with gun dealers, Duterte said high-powered firearms should not be sold to civilians. He added security guards should not be allowed to own firearms. They can be equipped with shotguns to defend themselves.

Duterte said he has opposed to arming security guards even before with high calibre firearms particularly those who are assigned to far-flung areas because rebels of the New Peoples’ Army often seize those weapons.

“There is a need to revise some of the rules in buying guns and ammunition,” he said.

Likewise, Duterte expressed his disappointment about the attacks still being committed by the communists despite the ongoing peace talks.