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While Pinoys have no ‘right to bear arms,’ SC bans PNP from forcing gun license applicants to consent to warrantless inspections

Although it declared that “Filipinos have never had such constitutional right” to bear arms, the Supreme Court (SC) has prohibited the Philippine National Police (PNP) from forcing gun owners to agree to have their houses inspected without a search warrant as requirement for their licenses or registration.

In a recent 73-page decision, the SC en banc unanimously declared unconstitutional Section 9.3 of the 2013 implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act Number 10591, or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.

However, the SC dismissed the challenges to the constitutionality of the provisions of the firearms law itself, saying that “none of our Constitutions ever provided the right to bear arms,” contrary to the complaint of the petitioners.

The decision arose from the petitions filed separately by Eric Acosta and Nathaniel dela Paz and by Peaceful Responsible Owners of Guns, Inc. (Progun).

Under the assailed IRR, applicants for firearm registration were required to sign a pro forma form stating: “I voluntarily give my consent and authorize the PNP to inspect my firearm/s described above at my residence/address as indicated in my application and, to confiscate or forfeit the same in favor of the government for failure to renew my firearm/s registration within six (6) months before the date of its expiration.”

The SC said the signing of the pro forma “Consent of Voluntary Presentation for Inspection” cannot be considered a valid waiver of the right against unreasonable searches as enshrined under Article III, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution.

This was because of the failure to provide the scope and extent of the warrantless inspections, making the provision overbroad. The SC noted that the IRR merely provided for a standard of “reasonableness” without any specification.

It was not satisfied by the amendment in 2018 of the IRR that specified the time for a valid warrantless inspection and required the presence of the licensee or his representative.

“The applicant cannot intelligently consent to the warrantless inspection allowed in Republic Act No. 10591 because of the utter lack of parameters on how the inspection shall be conducted,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

The SC pointed out that there was “no compelling urgency” for such inspections to be done since it was supposed to take place before the license is issued.

This decision made permanent the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued on April 8, 2014 against the requirement.

The SC denied the challenge to the constitutionality of the entire law and the rest of the IRR.

“The bearing of arms in our jurisdiction was, and still is, a mere statutory privilege, heavily regulated by the State,” read the decision.

Even the right to self-defense through the use of firearms, under the Revised Penal Code, is subject to the condition that it be exercised by “qualified citizens.”

The SC said the PNP’s then-suspension of the issuance of permits to carry firearms outside of residence was a valid police measure, since it was in response to the rise in high-profile crimes.

It found reasonable the limitation of private gun ownership to small arms. “The State balanced its interests to, on the one hand, keep violence at a minimum, and on the other, grant the right of the people to self-defense,” it read.

Of course, law enforcers were allowed to carry Class-A light weapons—”self-loading, entirely ccapable of inflicting multiple injuries on others”—because of their duties to supposedly maintain peace and order and protect the public.

The SC sustained the automatic revocation of the license if the firearm was used for the commission of a crime, under Section 39 of the law. It said the commission of the crime “indicates the licensee’s propensity for violence, which is contrary to the declared State policy.”

The SC also upheld the “non-transferrable” nature of the license; hence, it was correct for Section 26 of the law to require the next of kin or representative to deliver the firearm and ammunition to the PNP upon the death or legal disability of the license holder.

It said Progun failed to demonstrate its claim that the IRR went overboard when it prescribed “more restrictive” regulations for gun clubs, sports shooters, reloaders, gunsmithing, and indentors, among others.

The SC agreed with the Executive Secretary and the PNP that the law granted “reasonable elbow-room” to the police force in crafting the IRR since it was the administrative agency entrusted with enforcement.

It also found that contrary to Progun’s claim, the PNP did not place additional penal provisions in the IRR that were not already contained in the law.

The SC also sustained Section 4.10 of the IRR, which required sports shooters to secure a certification from the president of a recognized gun club or sports shooting association.

Contrary to Progun’s claim that the provision would violate the right of gun owners to join or not to join associations, the SC noted that the certification was only meant for the purposes of joining competitions that were usually sponsored by clubs.

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