Judges to buy guns for protection

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Supreme Court has adopted a P10-million loan program that will allow at least 200 judges to buy guns for their protection.

It made the decision despite an agreement among the Supreme Court, Department of Justice, and National Bureau of Investigation last year that tasked the bureau to form a judiciary protection unit for judges and justices who have received threats.

In a four-page resolution, the high tribunal said borrower-magistrates could avail themselves of the “gun-purchase” program if they are not more than 67 years old; not under preventive suspension from office; have a minimum 30 days leave credits; have met the minimum P3,000 net take-home pay as required by the General Appropriations Act; and have at least three qualified co-makers.

In the guidelines recommended to the Court en banc by Deputy Court Administrator Reuben de la Cruz, an interest-free handgun loan amounting to P50,000 would be made available to judges on a three-year repayment period of 36 monthly installments.

For the P50,000, judges may choose to acquire a handgun, a pistol or a shotgun. The current market price for a .45-cal. pistol, which has seven bullets in a magazine, is around P30,000. The standard police-issue Beretta 92-F 9mm, with a 12- or 13-round magazine, sells for P45,000.

The cheapest shotgun in the market is a 12-gauge pump-action, five shot, pistol grip model at P13,300. A Remington model, which can load eight rounds and has a folding stock or gun butt, sells for P50,000.

At least one justice has admitted to owning a firearm for protection.

Under the loan terms, should the judge-borrower fail to render the required service obligation through his own fault, negligence, unsatisfactory or poor performance or other causes within his control, resulting in the non-payment of the full cost of the handgun, or should the judge-borrower resign or transfer to an agency or office, the entire unpaid balance will become due and must be paid.

The judge-borrower must pay the balance within 30 days from retirement, separation or removal from the service.

Fifteen magistrates have been killed since 1999. The latest was Calbayog City Regional Trial Court Judge Roberto Navidad, who was gunned down on Jan. 14.

The Philippines may be one of the first countries to authorize judges to carry weapons. The United States does not allow its judges and magistrates to carry weapons, concealed or otherwise.

Under the memorandum signed in February 2007, the NBI’s Task Force Judiciary Protection will “provide prompt and effective protection to judges and justices needing or requesting protection due to threats to their personal safety arising from judicial work,” and “investigate thoroughly without letup until final resolution all killings or attempted killings of judges and justices.”

The task force was also supposed to regularly inspect the Supreme Court compound, Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeals, Sandiganbayan and the different halls of justice.

Under the memorandum, the United States Agency for International Development was to provide technical assistance through the expertise of Joe Paonessa, a consultant of the United States Marshalls.

In 2005, the Supreme Court approved the guidelines that allowed court personnel to be detailed as security for judges.

The guidelines say judges who receive a threat may apply with the National Police for protective security.

If the request is denied, the judge may then ask the Supreme Court’s Security Committee to designate a member of the judge’s staff as an escort.