By J.M. Ramos
For many centuries, the Philippine islands has been a subject of colonization by many foreign invaders. In the early days, this paradise like island was known as the Pearl of the Orient. Rich in gold, diamonds and spices, it became a prized possession of King Philip the Second of Spain after its discovery by Ferdinand Magellan in the early 1500s. For over 300 years, the country was under Spanish rule with Filipinos used as slaves. In the early 1800s, the American expeditionary force under Gen. John J. Pershing drove the Spanish Guardia Civil back to Spain. However in WW II, the Japanese Imperial Army took over the country after the fall of Bataan. It was retaken by Gen. Douglas McArthur in 1945. The Americans have since used the country as a main Air Force and Naval base for their pacific fleet until the mid 1980s, finally giving the country its long awaited full independence.
Origin of Filipino Home Made Firearms
Although early type of firearms, such as flintlocks, have been used against the Filipinos since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, it was the dreaded Kris sword, the main battle sword of the Moro chieftain Lapu-Lapu, that felled Magellan on his way back to Spain. It was not until the arrival of the Americans that local fighters started to take notice of the deadly fighting capability of the new class of firearms employed by General Pershing’s forces against the retreating Spanish. Joint forces of American and Filipino fighters eventually drove Spain’s elements out of the country. Filipino fighters envied the new American weapons as the large wavy blade Kris sword and bow and arrow were no longer a match for long distance engagement. The Americans established their rule in the country and the Philippines rapidly prospered despite the ill fated rebellion by Emilio Aguinaldo, the highest ranking Filipino General, who vigorously opposed the permanent stay of the US military forces in the island.
The birth of home made firearms in the Philippines is accurately documented. Perhaps the most interesting stage of improvised firearms development can be traced back to the early stages of World War II. After the main strategic defense lines of Filipino and American soldiers had fallen to the invading Japanese Imperial Army, the remaining soldiers scattered to smaller units and formed resistance groups to continue the fight. One particular American soldier, Ensign Eliff D. Robertson (USNR), while hiding on the small island of Leyte in the Visayas islands, came up with the idea of an improvised shotgun that could be put together from readily available materials that required no special tooling. Common water pipes used by villagers in building their wells were used for barrels, nails and ordinary pieces of wood completed the main elements of this highly sanitized battle gun. Thus was born the “Slam Bang” guerilla gun. The barrel is loaded with a single round, and then inserted into a larger tubing. To fire the weapon, the operator simply has to pull the barrel a few inches to the front and quickly slam the loaded barrel against the end plug containing the fixed firing pin consisting of a nail. There is no built-in extractor in the weapon, and the normal firing practice when time was short was to simply reverse the barrel, load the other end and fire the second shot. The empty shell was pushed out by the projectiles during the discharge. After the war, the guerilla gun called “Paliuntod” was briefly offered in the US commercial market by a company founded by the inventor himself in 1946, called Richardson Industries. The weapon never achieved any commercial success.
Not far from Leyte was the port island of Cebu. A guerilla fighter named Simeon A. Cortes contributed much to the development of small arms in the Philippines. He was born in Mandaue, Cebu and the region became noted for its underground firearms workshops. This small town builds any and all types of firearms, ranging from Smith & Wesson and Colt revolver clones to full automatic shotguns. During WW II, Cortes invented homemade 81mm mortars for use by the Cebu underground forces that were fighting the Japanese and were under the control of Col. Harry Fenton and Lt. James Cushing (USMC). He also built various bolt-action rifles, pistols and machine guns from scrap salvage gun parts. In 1942, he developed a simple process to convert to full auto the M1 .30 carbines that were delivered by submarines for the resistance fighters from Australia. After the war, Cortes sought an early discharge from the military and reopened a gun shop in his local town of Mandaue in 1945. His exemplary service as a chief ordnance officer with the resistance, as well as his inventiveness, made him the most sought-after firearms technician in the region.
The demand for Cortes built firearms in Cebu soon skyrocketed to a point where he could no longer deliver gun orders on time prompting him to train interested parties. Soon his shop was staffed with dozens of apprentices who were more than willing to learn the trade even without pay. Most of these gun makers-in-training were young men in their high school years building guns after school and on weekends. Acquaintances or relatives studying or working in big cities like Manila would then bring these locally produced guns to the cities to be sold in the black market to finance the young apprentice’s upcoming college education. At first, the flood of home made guns in the region become a concern to the local government. However, due to almost non-existent criminal activities in the area (except for unlicensed gun making), Governor Durano soon found a way to legalized the trade in his home town and it became a popular cottage industry. This move has made his territory of Danao famous as the center of “Paltik” guns – the innovators of US made gun imitators. Today, Danao province has hundreds of small workshops creating every type of firearms ranging from .22 caliber to .50 BMG in semi or full auto variants. Danao artisans were quite talented; even beating their US counterparts in creating the first .233 revolver as far back as the 1980’s and revolutionary box-fed full auto 12 gauge shotguns long before the Close Assault Weapon (CAWS) for the US military project materialized. Durano’s home turf is one of the country’s largest international port cities catering to both commercial and tourists shipping. The port is one of the regular stops for Japanese cargo ships which often barter electronic goods or watches for imitation guns, primarily the Colt and Smith & Wesson revolver copies. The smuggled weapons were then sold at a very high price in the Japanese black market and many were known to end up in the hand of the Yakusa (Japanese Mafia). Japan totally prohibits civilian firearm ownership, making the Danao Paltik guns the most viable alternative to the genuine US made counterparts, which are highly prized among Yakusa warlords.
Early Workshop Submachine guns
Early underground workshop-built submachine guns were highly inspired by the U.S. Army issue Thompson and M3 Greasegun submachine guns. A few were patterned externally after the M1 .30 Carbine in pistolized configurations in straight blow-back operation and not gas operated. Most popular are the Tommy gun and M3 Greasegun configurations. These guns have fewer parts; requiring a minimum of tools and simpler to build out of soft metal tubing and sheet metal improvised from oil drums. Barrels are mild steel rods that are normally 4 to 6 inches in length. The barrels are rifled with improvised cutters that are shallow and uneven. Accuracy is poor even at 15 yards. They do work relatively reliably up to about 500 rounds. Then malfunctions become common as the soft components start to wear out such as the firing pin, extractor, sear and springs. Most of these guns are made in caliber .45ACP and utilized the original Greasegun or Thompson magazines, which are usually supplied by the client who purchases the magazines from local military or police officers. The same basic style and construction applies in the making of the smaller .22 submachine guns. The .22’s, however, last longer and shoot more accurately than their big-bore cousins especially if the customer supplies the maker with a commercial barrel, magazine and recoil spring such as those manufactured by Arms Corporation (Armscor) of the Philippines. Armscor was the first government licensed manufacturer in the country and was established in the 1950s.
Current Home Made Submachine Guns
The present crop of home grown burp guns comes in many calibers, sizes and configurations. Although some models can still be encountered in the older Thompson and Grease gun patterns, caliber options now play a big role in the manufacturing. The .45ACP has now been restricted for military use only. The .30 M1 Carbine round has been obsolete in the police and military inventory since the adoption of the Ml6 rifle in 1980. Owners of carbines have since had their guns converted by Danao paltiksmiths to 9mm in pistolized format with a modified gas operated mechanism. These converted carbines were mostly redesigned to accept high capacity pistol magazines as used on imported commercial pistols made by Smith & Wesson, SIG, Para-Ordnance, Tanfoglio and others. In the older models, styling and quality of workmanship may vary from shop to shop depending on the available tools and experience of the maker. Each gun made is different from the other; being 80 percent hand made with final configuration of the gun totally shaped by hand using assorted files. Later guns exhibit some sort of uniformity as the artisans started learning the art of casting. The frame of the gun is the most difficult to create by hacksaw and file and took longer time to shape by hammering the sheet metal to form the desired shape. Today, the construction technique is simplified. The sheet metal part of the receiver is formed in an improvised die. Internal inserts are still riveted and brazed leaving a visible yellow line on joints. This observation still holds true even with the current revolver and pistol clones that these workshops build today in their well equipped workshops. The most notable feature in the current home made SMG’s are the grip pattern and the overall construction. Guns made in the same area often have similar grip styles and constructions. This is because of cooperation among several shops delegating the manufacture of various components to sub-contractors in order to speed up the manufacturing process to be productive and profitable.
Submachine guns produced by Durano’s workshops are normally chambered for 9mm, .38 Special. and .22 LR calibers. These are the most easily obtained ammunition for civilians. In the old days, magazines used were military issue obtained in the black market from corrupt military personnel. Today, Danao workshops make their own stick magazines with a normal capacity of 30 rounds. Some clients opt to be able to use their pistol magazines in their submachine guns and are ordered in that format. In some cases, others supply factory barrels expecting better accuracy and stronger material to minimize blow-ups, as experienced with mild steel barrels made by the local artisans. The German MP-40 styling is quite popular among the gun makers complete with “Made in Germany” markings. This sometimes fools the intended buyers which, in most cases, are rural farmers and illiterate landowners who are not familiar with such things. Wealthy customers who are ordering submachine guns in the province are now taking advantage of the vast availability of gun parts from mail order companies, many of which are coming from the US as brought in by licensed gun importers. While the basic frame or receiver is still made in Danao, these high class special order guns contain real factory made bolt, barrel, springs and trigger mechanisms. The end product is greatly improved and, as is the case, each gun is made differently in accordance to the customer specification. The most requested format is the Ingram MAC-10 in either 9mm or .22 LR. The .22 machine pistol is a scaled down version of the famed Ingram M11, popularly known locally as the “Sanvik.” It takes a 15- or 20-shot Armscor box magazine delivering 1,800 rpm in full automatic. The Sanvik was also made in a silenced version and were known to be used by rebel assassination cells responsible for the killing of many top ranking military personnel and politicians in the country between 1980-1990.
Underground firearms manufacturing in the Philippines has been a flourishing industry for the past 40 years. The illegal activity briefly ceased during the declaration of Martial Law by the late President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. There were over a quarter of a million illegally manufactured weapons confiscated or turned over to the military during its weapons sweep in that year with almost 60 percent of the weapons being made in Danao. Other regions who are also known to produce Paltiks of lesser quality are the provinces of Ilocos (President Marcos’ own province), Cavite City, a suburb of Manila and the Muslim regions of Mindanao; the creators of the dreaded Kris and Barong fighting sword.
The present administration in the Philippines has been lenient in the civilian ownership of firearms despite the threat of terrorism by Muslim insurgents in its southern borders. Sport shooting competitions among locals flourished and earned the country some of the finest IPSC shooters ever to defeat Americas best in the likes of Jethro Dionisio and the Levanza sisters. The gun industry has flourished as well with the addition of a new, fully government licensed gun manufacturing establishment in Danao to compete with Armscor in the local market.
Although home made guns remain a major concern in the government sector, the problem has grown to a point where control is no longer an issue as drugs and terrorism became a priority over petty gun makers. Ironically, arsenal made automatic weapons entering the country illegally has now flooded the black market that used to be dominated by Danao products. Today, as more organized gunrunners control the show by bringing in the likes of Chinese Kalashnikovs, M-14’s and UZI clones, these are the hottest selling item in the illegal trade. These military copies are eagerly sought after by terrorist funded rebel insurgents and Muslim fighters in the south. While Danao’s cottage industry’s growth has slowed down by the entry of the smuggled foreign made military weapons in the black market, it is quite likely that Paltik guns will continue to find a market among less hostile clients. From its humble beginning in WW II, the Paltik gun had its own share of glory among guerilla fighters who effectively used them against the Japanese army when there was a short supply of equipment. The cottage industry provided a means of livelihood to thousands of poor people who would otherwise starve to death and enabled them to send their children to acquire a higher education. Equally important, the Danao specials served many rural police departments and village leaders during the turbulent era of 1960 to 1980. It was these decades from which was the peak of rebel campaigns and corrupt government and military officials’ activities plagued the nation. Home made weapons have played a very important role in the Philippine society in both war and peace, in the past, and in the present. The concern of widening terrorist indoctrination and recruitment in more remote areas of the country has worried the authorities. With short supply of equipment and lack of funding to arm the local civilian home defense forces, the automatic weapons and imitation guns of Danao have become a viable alternative. These weapons remain in service among rural chieftains and village militias under the blessing of the military. They will no doubt continue to do so for many more years to come.
The author wishes to express special thanks to Engineer Gene Cordero and Senior Special Agent Diego Gutierrez of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), both residents of Manila, and to Jack V. Krcma of Toronto, Canada for photos and information which made the completion of this article possible.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N1 (October 2005)|