Airsoft ‘war game’ now legal
By Ann Corvera
The Philippine Star 11/06/2006
Around May of last year, a 19-year-old student was held at Camp Crame for illegal possession of a firearm. It turns out he was only carrying a replica used in a war game that’s now becoming more and more popular among civilians.
For years the law had not been on the side of airsoft players until last September when the Philippine National Police (PNP) amended the rules governing the game.
The incident involving the student prompted Atty. Ernesto Tabujara III to initiate a petition that would finally give the game of airsoft a legal face.
"How can an airsoft gun be classified as a firearm? I was surprised," said Tabujara, a veteran player, who rushed to his young comrade’s aid after getting a call for help at 8 a.m. that day in May. "So it was at this time that I started doing research (on the legalization of airsoft) and that’s how I got the group started."
A year later, the efforts of Tabujara along with 63 airsoft teams and 40 players who signed the petition paid off with the release of PNP Circular No. 08 containing the amended rules and regulations that govern the manufacture, importation, exportation, sale and possession of airsoft guns. The circular also covers provisions for the operation of airsoft gun clubs and "playgrounds."
"The impact of this is that no airsoft player can be charged with illegal possession of firearms," Tabujara told The STAR after meeting with the newly elected officers of the airsoft team Apocalypse that include The STAR’s pre-press manager Ferdie Pajarillo, who sits in the board of directors.
Tabujara is president of the United Airsoft Alliance (UAA), of which Apocalypse is a member and a signatory to the petition.
Apocalypse president Jamir Betita and former president Arthur Cabatingan said they were happy with this development."We all feel very happy about it considering that before, airsoft was guerrilla type," Cabatingan told The STAR, recalling that incidents of airsoft guns getting confiscated have happened many times before.
Under the PNP circular, an airsoft rifle or pistol has been classified as "a special type of airgun.""(An) airsoft rifle/ pistol herein used includes battery operated, spring and gas type powered rifles/ pistols which discharge plastic or rubber pellets only as bullets or ammunition," the circular read.
And what is airsoft? The game has been around since the late 1980s, gaining popularity over the years by word of mouth and with Web sites dedicated to airsoft mushrooming.
An estimated 11,000 players all over the country are now hooked on the game that pretty much works like a typical war exercise except the bullets aren’t real. But it can really hurt if one is not in "battle dress uniform" that includes a facemask and tactical vest.
Players, including organized and non-organized members total about 11,000 nationwide. Most of the players are in the National Capital Region but we have a lot of players in Cebu, northern Luzon and Mindanao," said Tabujara, adding that there are several other airsoft organizations, among them the Philippine Airsoft National Society and the Action Games League, the oldest group around.
In the maiden issue of Airsoft Extreme magazine, airsoft is defined as a game where players participate in the "simulation of military or law enforcement combat with replica military firearms and military-style tactics."
Airsoft guns commonly use 6mm or 8mm "spherical projectiles" known as BBs, or ballistic balls, according to the magazine.The legalization of airsoft not only meant protection for the players, but for game sites and stores selling airsoft guns as well.
"Some sites have been visited especially the provincial ones, and some stores of airsoft guns have actually been raided. Some players had their guns confiscated at checkpoints, and we just simply want to avoid those problems," Tabujara said.
In purchasing an airsoft weapon, he said that "under the rules, the player has to be at least 18 years of age as pegged by the PNP."
With the game’s legalization, the PNP has imposed registration of airsoft guns, its playing sites should be licensed as well as the shops selling these firearms, Tabujara said."We were given a six-month grace period to comply," he said of the PNP circular. On membership and ‘ACMs’
Tabujara, who is also president of the Peaceful, Responsible Owners of Gun or PRO-Gun, has been playing since October 2004 and adopted the moniker "Atty. Fallujah," explaining that it was in the city of Fallujah where the battle was going on then in the US war on Iraq.
"A friend told me about airsoft. My background is real steel, real guns as I’ve been shooting since 1969. When I found out about airsoft, I thought it should be something I should get into to further my skills," said the 41-year-old Tabujara. "But right now, I’m not part of any team."
The non-profit UAA was formed after the petition to legalize airsoft was filed and it currently has 100 teams, Tabujara said.
With the petition a success, Tabujara expects more people interested in the game to join.
Cabatingan, however, admitted that they have to be choosy in allowing in more players. At Apocalypse, becoming a member entails a lengthy process.
"Before you become a member, you have to render service to fellow Apocalypse members like conduct marshalling during games, organize games and play four games sanctioned by the team. And a regular member of Apocalypse has to sponsor your membership," Cabatingan explained.
Apocalypse has a grievance committee, he said, as altercations are unavoidable among players.
Team Apocalypse, which was founded sometime in 2004 by three priests and several individuals including Cabatingan himself, is one of the largest airsoft teams around with some 200 members, among them 20 female players.
"That’s the biggest female contingent in airsoft. If we include reserves, there are about 30 of them," said the 40-year-old airsoft enthusiast.
Airsoft players come from diverse backgrounds.
Apocalypse’s 200 members are mostly composed of business professionals with some military men still active in the service, politicians and priests. With the advent of cheaper guns, or what airsofters call "ACMs" (all-China made), Betita said the game has become "affordable."
"Unlike before when Japanese guns like a Tokyo Marui was commonly used and that costs at least P10,000," he said. "ACMs are priced as low as P3,000 to P4,000." If a player wants a weapon with a more powerful range, upgrading his gun would mean spending some P30,000, according to Cabatingan.
Then there’s the gear, which Betita said, when added to the cost of expensive weapons could total to some P20,000.
Players pay an entrance fee, which could range between P350 to P900 for big games. But a regular Sunday game costs at least P100.
Tabujara, Cabatinga and the 37-year-old Betita religiously play on weekends when most games are scheduled in sites like Camp Masada on Litex Road in Quezon City.
When not playing airsoft, Cabatingan is busy running his own IT company while Betita attends to his responsibilities as a telecoms executive.
Apart from their shared passion for the game, Cabatingan said what’s good about playing is that it also creates a "network" of business possibilities for these professionals.
"Sometimes we collaborate. That’s the extent of our relationship," shared Betita, who claimed he was a "lone wolf" in the game for about a year before he found a home in Apocalypse in 2005.
This harmonious relationship among players has led to Apocalypse embarking on humanitarian activities to keep the "brotherhood" alive even after game time.
"Our direction went to being able to diversify into other fields. Apocalypse has become a big organization and I became worried that airsoft might become fad lang and mawala na din ang Apocalypse so we started getting into community service, medical missions and benefit games," Cabatingan said.
He noted that they held a benefit game last year for the victims of the landslide in Leyte, and right now the team is working out a possible partnership with Operation Damayan, The STAR’s socio-humanitarian arm.