APRIL - JUNE 2002
VOL. VIII   NO. 2

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A Deadly Craft

High-powered guns are now made in Danao. [Photo by JAILEEN JIMENO] by Jaileen Jimeno

THE JAPANESE tourist kept going around the plaza in a taxi. Some children in the playground finally noticed him, and one made a gesture akin to firing a gun. The foreigner nodded and smiled; a child fetched a known gun seller nearby. Minutes later, a deal was made. That's how easy it is to buy a gun in Danao.

The sugarcane fields and hills of Danao City continue to hide an illegal trade that has thrived for almost a century now. It is a secret that is frequently given away by random gunshots and the echoes they make. But the locals don't flinch at such noises. Many of them have grown up knowing that Danao City churns out hand-made guns while local government officials look the other way.

Now though, after decades of becoming synonymous with the lowly handgun called "paltik," Danao City is fast becoming a source of powerful—but cheap—weapons. On sale are long firearms like Armalites, machine pistols like KG-9s, Uzis, Ingrams, and assault rifles like baby Armalites. Danao's gunmakers also make silencers and other gun accessories.

"This is what people live on here," says a 66-year-old gunmaker. "There's no corn to grow, nothing to eat. People are forced to make guns to survive."

One of the most popular gunmakers here is "Kevin," who is just 26 years old. His house is almost two kilometers away from the main road, past cane fields and creeks that double as deterrents for police who may suddenly raid his workplace. His "office" is a makeshift hut where there is a table cradling an assortment of tools for cutting, filing, and polishing steel. A few meters away from Kevin's shed, hidden by tall cogon grass and coconut trees, is a similar hut occupied by another gunmaker.

The soft-spoken Kevin's claim to fame is his very own invention: a mini-Ingram. Using only his imagination, Kevin made the submachine gun smaller, but still as lethal as its big brother. The mini-Ingram looks cute and harmless, but it can spit out 18 to 20 9-mm bullets in a second. It sells at P4,000 a piece. Kevin came out with the prototype in October 2001, and has already sold 29 units as of last March. Other Danao gunmakers have since copied his gun, and are now doing brisk business with their homage to Kevin's genius.

Kevin learned the craft while helping his father make guns. He completed his first gun at 15. His skills now support his wife and two children. Like most gunmakers in Danao, Kevin makes his products from scrap metals, cheap and easily available in junk shops.

Kevin is convinced that his mini-Ingram is just the beginning of his career as an inventor. "For my next project, I'm going to put together the features of the Uzi and the Ingram," he says. "I'm going to call it Uzi-gram."

Mario Durano, of the political clan that has ruled this city for generations, is credited for the illegal gun industry in Danao. One of his first revolvers is kept in the private collection of Boboy Durano (no relation), Danao's city administrator. Mario Durano's first products were duds, made chiefly of bronze. People say Durano began making guns in 1907. They say he also tried making a car engine that ran on water.

The local government has tried to make gun making legitimate by organizing the local craftsmen into a a cooperative. That effort worked at first, but gunmakers were ultimately turned off by the low pay. "We were earning a measly P200 every day," says Kevin. "They were paying us just for the labor." He says while he enjoyed working without the threat of being arrested anytime, the money he made could not support his family.

Almost all gunmakers are known to their neighbors, and even the police. "Our clients are usually security agencies, businessmen, government officials, politicians, policemen, and soldiers," says a veteran gunmaker. Men in uniform who do not have service firearms buy from Danao because it is cheap. Others bring in their firearms to the shed of illegal gunmakers to have them repaired.

But gunmakers say soldiers and policemen are the most difficult customers. "Either they don't pay at all," says one gunmaker, "or they have your shed raided if you do not meet the deadline for their orders."

Sales peak during the elections, with most orders finding their way to election hotspots. Danao guns are in demand in Masbate, Nueva Ecija, Cagayan Valley, Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, Pagadian, Ozamis, Dipolog, Cagayan de Oro City, and Zamboanga City.

Gunmakers rely on "stockholders" to back up their operations. "Stockholders" deal with the buyers, and they provide the capital for gunmakers when big orders come.

The "viajeros" deliver the guns to the buyers. In the chain of illegal gunmaking, they are the most interesting group. They can be single women who appear to be pregnant, or really pregnant women who appear so helpless.

"Ana," who is now in her 30s, began delivering guns when she was 18. She says she does it for the rush it gives her. She has been arrested numerous times, but says she isn't bothered by them—so long as her children do not find out about these incidents.

"It's easier to travel when you're pregnant, because they wouldn't think that you're carrying something like guns," says Ana. But she stops when her pregnancy reaches the fifth month.

Viajeros rely mostly on public transportation to deliver their goods. Some seek the help of "contacts" or "friends" in ships and buses. Others hide the guns in trucks carrying other goods. When caught, viajeros turn in the guns to escape prosecution. In many instances they are not charged. "The guns aren't loaded," says Ana. "That means, there was no intent to kill."

Despite the presence of a huge number of guns in Danao, the city is peaceful. Last year, police recorded a total of 74 cases of crime, less than half of them gun-related.

"This is the character of the people of Danao," says Mayor Ramon Durano III, yet another of Mario Durano's relatives. "They are peaceful people. The gun industry is just a circumstance." (based on author's I-Witness report)



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