The Philippines' Dangerous Love Affair With Guns

Why do so many Filipinos own and carry weapons? One theory points to the influence of former American colonial rulers.

Filipinos at a gun show to promote responsible ownership in Mandaluyong
Filipinos at a gun show to promote responsible ownership in Mandaluyong
Jason Strother

MANILA — Inside this shooting range, located in the basement of a Manila shopping mall, pistols are loaded, triggers are cocked and shots are fired at paper targets 10 meters away.

The Philippines has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in Asia.

Around 1.5 million Filipinos are licensed firearm carriers. But a high rate of violent crime indicates that many illegal weapons fall into the wrong hands. There are more than 8,000 homicides each year in the country, according to recent statistics from the United Nations.

But many Filipinos see gun ownership as a cultural and historical right. "It's widespread, and it's national," says Reynaldo Pacheco. "Everyone will tell you that. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can buy a gun. You can get one easily."

Pacheco, who goes by his nickname Nandy, is perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of the Philippine gun culture. Very few activists have tried to take on the arms industry and the pro-gun culture and government.

He invited me to his countryside home just outside the capital. Walking past the flock of chickens by the front door, I enter his spacious dining room. There's a statue of the Virgin Mary in the corner, and atop the upright piano is a picture of Nandy, his wife and their four grown children.

After a long career as a lawyer and working for the United Nations, he founded the advocacy group Gunless Society 25 years ago. In 1998, he was a vice presidential candidate who ran on a gun-reform platform but lost.

Today, at 82, he's not slowing down, and is eager to recount for me one of his earliest memories of gun violence. It was 1942 and the Japanese military had just invaded the Philippines. He, his family, his neighbors, as well as American and local soldiers were forced at gunpoint to leave their homes in what became known as the Bataan Death March.

"On the left side of the road were the soldiers, the Americans and the Filipinos," he recalls. "On the right side were the civilians. The Filipino soldier would make a sign to us, prepare the civilian clothes, and they would transfer to our side. Some succeeded, but others when they were seen by a Japanese solider, the soldier shot him."

A Yankee legacy

Pacheco says that experience may have been what inspired him to hate guns. But to know why so many other Filipinos love their weapons, he says all you have to do is look at one of his country's former colonial rulers.

"We got it from the Americans," he says. "We learned many good things from the Americans, but what we learned most was this addiction to violence, to guns."

Pacheco says it hasn't been easy trying to persuade lawmakers to see things his way. "The biggest stumbling block here is the politicians. When public officials carry guns with bodyguards, they give the wrong impression. It becomes a status symbol. I cannot understand the people, how can they keep voting for these people."

Ernesto Tabujara says that the Philippines can be dangerous, which he argues is why people need their guns, to protect themselves. He heads the lobby group Peaceful Responsible Owners of Guns, or PRO Gun, and has taken on Pacheco in debates over gun culture here.

"First of all, I dispute the fact that there is a direct correlation between the crime rate and gun ownership," Tabujara says. "In the Philippines, the crime rate is not because of gun ownership. Actually, it's because of the inability of law enforcement to counter or arrest all these criminals and terrorists who are operating in our country."

Last year, a new law came into effect that aimed to reduce gun violence. But it actually expanded the list of people who could own multiple firearms.

The only recent lull in violence was when Pope Francis visited the Philippines in January.
The pontiff didn't address the country's rate of violent crime during his mass, but every word he said was closely followed by many of the country's 76 million Roman Catholics.

But Nandy Pacheco, a devout Catholic himself, says Filipinos aren't really listening to the Pope's messages of peace. "This country has become a country of hypocrites. There's no love, there's no truth, no justice, no reconciliation. It's full of violence."

Despite what seems at times to be a losing battle, Pacheco still has some fight left in him.
He's behind legislation that would outlaw carrying firearms in public altogether, though he's not necessarily confident about its fate. "Even if it doesn't become law in my lifetime," he says, "success would be measured but faithfulness, my faithfulness to the cause. That is what matters."

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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