MANILA May 18 The Philippines, which has more gun-related deaths than any other country in Asia relative to its size, needs tougher gun control laws as the number of illegal weapons has topped one million, a police general said on Monday.
More than half of the estimated 2 million revolvers, pistols, shotguns and assault rifles in the Philippines, a country of 90 million people, are believed to be unregistered and illegal, Chief Superintendent Reynaldo Rafal told reporters.
About 70 percent of small arms are in the hands of civilians and 80 percent of the illegal weapons are concentrated in restive provinces on the southern island of Mindanao -- Basilan, Jolo and Tawi-tawi.
"In some communities, particularly in Mindanao, guns have almost become a fashion accessory to display power and authority," Rafal said.
"There's a need to account for all firearms in the country." He said the number of small arms has grown about 10 percent since 2007, matched by an increase in gun-related violence in the country. In 2008, more than 1,000 deaths were reported due to unregistered guns, he added.
In 2006, 98.9 percent of 3,540 crimes reported used unlicensed guns, Rafal said. In 2007, the rate went up to 99.1 percent of 5,228 gun-related crimes and 99.5 percent of 5,999 gun-related crimes last year.
The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a non-government organisation, says the Philippines ranked 10th in the list of countries across the globe with the highest number of gun-related killings.
Colombia has the highest with 50 deaths per 100,000 people in a year, IANSA said. The Philippines, the only Asian country in the top 20 list, has 9.64 deaths per 100,000 people annually.
Rafal said gun-related violence was expected to rise in the run-up to elections next year.
"Traditionally, we see a rise in gun-related violence during the election period, either to intimidate supporters or eliminate rival candidates," he added.
Jesus Verzosa, head of the 120,000-member national police, said the government was also losing millions of dollars in taxes and duties from the illegal gun trade. Theft from government armouries was also a problem. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Bill Tarrant)