by Jess G Dureza/TIMES Publisher
GUN TRAINING –Over the weekend, two groups of working media men and women gathered together coming from two opposite directions — from Davao City in the north and General Santos City in the south. They travelled for about an hour and converged at a half-way location, the Seagull Resort shooting range along the Davao-Gensan highway in Hagonoy, Davao del Sur. When they arrived at the pistol and rifle shooting range area, a shooting competition was also in progress with gun enthusiasts from different areas participating in a five-stage “fun shoot”. Philippine Practical Shooting Association (PPSA) area director Jay Dureza (my son) and his fellow range officers (ROs) were on site supervising the day-long “shoot”. Immediately upon their arrival, the 30 or so working journalists lost no time and started buckling down to serious work indoors while noise of gunshots of competitors filled the air outside.
SECURITY BRIEFING –The first session was getting practical briefings and tips on how to deal with security situations with experienced Police Officer Butch Requilman of the Davao Sur police command as lecturer. He first traced why members of media by the nature of their work were natural targets of security threats. He also outlined how to deal with them and how to spot and detect security threat situations and how to counter them. There were interesting tips on “counter surveillance” . For example, how do you detect if someone is trailing or “casing” you. Tips like walking and slowing down, then increasing your pace or suddenly turning around. If you are driving, abruptly changing speed by slowing down then speeding can betray a tailing suspect. If you are in shopping centers or malls, spot someone shadowing you by using reflections from glass panes or suddenly entering and exiting or mixing with the crowd to “shake him off”. At home, take note of unfamiliar persons “posting” or loitering in the neighborhood or motorcycles or vehicles parked nearby and jotting down descriptions or plate numbers. Avoid or change “patterns” like routes and time of going home or to places of work. One is most vulnerable when getting out from the house in the mornings or in going home at the end of the day or at your place of work because that’s the easiest and most convenient site to wait for you in ambush. All the attackers will simply do is stake you out and wait by your gate to make the hit. Many other helpful and practical tips were discussed. For example, contrary to popular belief, one is also an easy target if inside a vehicle because the occupant’s options are limited hence presence of mind and alertness are necessary for survival. He said it’s useless hiring bodyguards following you in another vehicle if they cannot react timely to an attack. Practicing contingency emergency driving like stepping on the gas or evasive driving for you or your driver are survival tips. Just because one believes he has not wronged someone does not mean he is immune from danger. Bottom line: always be on the alert. By the way, these helpful tips apply to all of us, whether mediamen or not!
SAFE GUN HANDLING RULES — Range Officer (RO) Don Advincula, an accredited member of the national range officers institute (NROI) lectured on how to handle a gun. There are four cardinal rules to remember in gun handling. FIRST, always assume that the gun is loaded, even if you have already removed the ammo. Or even if you have checked it already. SECOND, never point the muzzle or barrel of the gun at anything that you do not wish to destroy or harm. That means pointing your gun skyward or downward if you have a drawn gun in your hands and not ready to fire yet. Don’t point a gun at someone or at yourself even if you are “sure” that there is no ammo (like the reckless practice of peeping down its barrel to check if it is clean, unless you are prepared to commit suicide). THIRD, keep your finger away from the trigger unless you are prepared to shoot. (Discipline that dirty finger!) FOURTH, know what is beyond or around your intended target. If these four rules are followed by everyone, then no accidents will happen.
SHOOTING RANGE ETIQUETTE — There are other interesting and important points or rules of safety and etiquette to remember once one is inside a shooting range. Important first rule is: unload your firearm before or upon entering the range premises. It is a cardinal rule that you separate the bullets from the gun at all times. Hence magazines with ammo are removed away from the gun. Notice that practical shooters walk around in the range with all gears but their guns are holstered without mags. At no instance should the firearm and the live bullet be put together unless you are already in a specific stage ready to compete but only, I repeat, only upon the specific instruction or authorization by the concerned range officer (RO). Once inside, there are only two locations or areas where you are allowed to handle your firearm: One, inside the specific areas (called “stage”) where you shoot at targets but only upon express authorization or command by the designated RO and two, at designated places called “safety areas”. Even in rare instances when you are roaming around the range area and your holstered firearm, for one reason or another falls on the ground, you do not immediately pick up the gun from the ground. The proper procedure is to look for a range officer (they are attired distinctively and usually with black and white stripes) and it is only upon his express authorization that you can pick it up or for the RO to pick it up himself. There are properly designated “SAFETY AREAS” inside the range. In that designated place you can handle your gun, practice without ammo, draw and dry fire, or even insert your empty magazine or adjust or repair your firearm. But the cardinal rule is there is no ammo involved in those activities. The only — I repeat, the only time a shooter is allowed to load his gun with ammo is only while at a particular shooting stage and only upon specific instruction by the RO whose range command is” load and make ready”.
“FIRING!” Once you are in a specific area where you are supposed to shoot at targets (called a stage), there are also rules to observe. First, you must wear eye and ear protection gears like ear muffs and eye glasses. In that place, the designated RO is the only boss and no one else. He gives the specific commands. Before firing, a loud call ‘FIRING” is announced. Firearms are pointed only downrange or at “safe directions”. Pointing or leveling your barrel or muzzle beyond 180 degrees (straight to your left or right) or in an unsafe direction (like unconsciously swinging your gun to the crowd around) is a violation of the basic rules. It can result to an outright disqualification (DQ) from the competition. After finishing the stage, the shooter must immediately remove the magazine, open the chamber to eject an unspent ammo, if any, then show to the RO it’s clear of ammo ( RO command: “show clear”) and then with muzzle pointed downwards or towards the ground, the trigger is pulled ( RO command:”hammer down”.) The final act is to holster the gun without the mag.
ACTUAL DEMO — Enough of the lectures. After the interesting session indoors, the journalists then moved to the open field where a “stage” for actual demonstration was prepared with paper targets. Reloads were used. And all of them, applying the rules learned during the briefing session, each fired several rounds upon the close supervision of RO Don. That was to be the best part, spent at the outdoor firing range sniffing gunpowder, puncturing paper targets and downing metal plates. Well, most of it was actually punching holes on the ground as many of them handled handguns and shooting at targets for the first time in their lives.
COMPETITION WINNERS — Feeling confident after firing several practice rounds, the group decided to try out for the “real thing”. We transferred to one of the competition stages and a majority of them joined the actual competition but limited only to Stage No. 5. Of course their cameras also dominated the “shoot” so expect a flood of FaceBook uploads soon. Their scores were officially tabulated. I put up cash prizes for the top three shooters. The results (media division): Champion, ZALDY CANEDO (ABS-CBN radio, Davao City); 2nd place, AQUILES ZONIO (Inquirer, General Santos City) 3rd place, HOPE TEODORO, (Gen Santos City.)
The winners evidently were not “first timers” or “shooting virgins”. Two lady reporters had the grace and determination to join in:, “shooting virgins” (or “first timers”, if you will) Emilord Castromayor of the Mindanao Times and Lady Reporter Ivy.
HOW IT STARTED — The day-long event for media was first planned when several journalists from General Santos City expressed concern to me about their personal safety following several violent incidents. Their colleagues were helplessly gunned down by unknown attackers recently. Worse, during the most recent attack on murdered Publisher Chris Guarin, even sympathizing colleagues who delivered eulogies during the funeral of the slain journalist were subsequently threatened with death threats themselves. Take the case of media man Boboy Mascardo whose only fault was that he publicly warned the still unknown attackers of Chris during the latter’s necrological services that the law would eventually catch up with them. Instead of “striking fear” on the murderers, it even provoked them into zeroing in Mascardo himself. The following day his wife, Mrs.Gigi Mascardo called me by phone asking for help when suspicious-looking men started harassing them and even parking their motorcycles outside their gate. I told her , among other things, to report to the police and get some help. Then, I advised her that her husband must get a gun to protect himself. (You bet,Boboy Mascardo joined the Saturday event, although he came late after coming from an event in an MILF-controlled area.)
What happened in the killing of Chris was instructive. He was unarmed and driving his car on his way home from his radio program with his wife on board. Two men, riding in tandem on a motorcycle suddenly appeared from nowhere and opened fire. Chris was not fatally hit at the first volley. He jumped out of the car as he shouted to his wife to stay and take cover. Evidently, his purpose was to divert the gunfire away from the car to save his wife and attempt to escape. He was finished off by the attackers while doing that. Friends surmised that if Chris were only armed with a handgun at that time, he would have a better chance of surviving the attack.
POST SCRIPT — The idea of training journalists how to be responsible gun holders — with some basic gun- handling skills — was in my drawing boards for a long time now. A journalist, especially in security-challenged areas will be able to exercise his profession better and less threatened hence freer and not restrained to do his/her job if he feels confident that he can secure himself during critical moments. I felt strongly about this when I faced my own moments during my early days as a journalist. I do not however prescribe this to all journalists. This must be done only on a case to case basis. The decision must be left to the individual persons, depending on the situation they are in.
It was already getting dark last Saturday late afternoon when the journalists were leaving the range. This naughty reporter as a parting remark said: ” In behalf of all of us, we thank you. Sir Jess, for this. We are more confident now than ever. And the would-be assassins will be a bit hesitant now knowing that we are ready for them. Aside from us, the guns-for-hire will have also to thank you. Now that we have become difficult targets than before, the for-hire-killers will now have a reason go back to their masterminds or those who contracted them and demand for a raise of the ‘hit money. Their tariff rates have suddenly increased because of you!”.
Wow! Do they indeed deserve a raise? Then I should get a commission for the upgrade!