Raquel C. Bagnol
In an island where guns are strictly prohibited and policemen are not seen carrying them, hearing a gunshot is a remote possibility and a remarkable event. The law is very strict about it, and anyone caught under possession of even just a bullet or an empty shell could mean 15 years imprisonment.
Before coming to this island of Palau, I had visions of joining regular shooting practices and tournaments so that by the time I would come back to Davao I could compete with the other journalists here who are sharp shooters. I envisioned long stretches of empty spaces with world-class shooting ranges but one year of staying here I was yet to see a real gun. That was remedied when I bravely asked a policeman if they ever carry guns around, and if I may see one. He looked at me long and hard before finally saying yes. He went to the police car and fished out a shining .38 caliber from the compartment, then took it back as if he was afraid I would snatch it from him.
The nearest sound to a gunshot one hears here would be the explosion of a car tire but that too, is not common. Palauans tend to change tires without waiting for them to “retire”. It’s funny but if you hear a car tire explode, that car for sure belongs to a Filipino because if it’s possible to put scotch tape or glue, they’ll do it to save dollars (including me). Palauans also do not buy second hand tires and service station attendants are finding a lucrative business reselling tires to Filipinos at $15-20 each.
But back to guns, our target.
A couple of weeks ago, the Senate president of Palau who happened to be the brother of my boss died in a fishing accident. At the funeral, the late senator was honored by a 21-gun salute. Seven policemen carried M-16 and garand rifles, and that was the first time I saw long guns here. They looked shiny as though they are framed inside cabinets with no intention of using. It was a big event for the locals!
Growing up in a “gun-infested” area in North Cotabato, the sight of guns and the sound of gunshots is nothing new. As early as grade four I have learned to distinguish a shot that missed its target, or a shot at close range. (This would be followed by piercing screams from the family of the victim).
The seven police officers took their posts and prepared to fire. At the command, each police officer pulled the trigger. At the first batch of gun burst, people near the shooting area were visibly shocked. Glasses and other objects fell to the ground as the people clapped their hands to their ears and braced themselves for the second and the third batch of gunfire. I couldn’t help but wonder if these people knew how fortunate they are that their place is relatively peaceful. The kids here are fortunate because they never knew what it is to live in nervous anticipation when or where the next round of gunfire will come from, or master the art of automatically dropping to the ground during an explosion. Lucky islanders.