Long before the Philippine National Police (PNP) disclosed that 1,004 AK-47 rifles may have been sold to the New People’s Army (NPA), a senior cadre of the rebel group intimated that hundreds of the sturdy rifle are now in the hands of Red fighters.
Photos of NPA rebels brandishing AK-47s began appearing with regularity a couple of years ago, about the same time when the Philippine police said a broker purchased the rifles purportedly for security forces of mining companies in Mindanao. The broker, identified as Isidro Lozada, then sought clearance and licenses from the the PNP Firearms and Explosive Office.
Turned out that the names where these weapons were to be delivered were fictitious. By the time the PNP discovered the anomaly, the AK-47s have already been test-fired by the NPAs in ambushes and encounters with government police and military forces.
Ka Efren, spokesman of the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Far South Mindanao Region, said they find the Chinese variant of assault rifle efficient and durable.
The AK-47 was designed by Russian inventor Mikhael Kalashnikov and put into mass production in 1947. The Avtomat Kalashnikov (Kalasnikov’s Automatic) has since undergone little changes.
It has become an iconic weapon of liberation armies and rebel forces throughout the world.
The NPA’s red flag even has an AK-47 in its emblem although for years, Asia’s longest running communist insurgency has relied on government standard M-16 rifles.
In an interview somewhere in Cotabato province middle of last year, Ka Efren said they were able to procure caches of AK-47s from gunrunners and government sources. Police and military authorities said an AK-47 costs P52,000 in the open market.
Throughout Mindanao, especially in the Davao, Caraga and Cotabato regions, young NPA guerrillas are now slinging the Soviet era-designed Kalashnikov rifle.
Some say about 30 percent of the issued firearms of NPA regulars are now AK-47 rifles.
Enough to arm a brigade
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said if the number of AK-47 rifles now in the hands of the NPA rebels is accurate, it could arm a standard Army Brigade.
Maj. Gen. Ricardo Rainer Cruz, commanding general of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command had earlier ordered the investigation of the proliferation of AK-47s in the hands of NPA guerrillas after they seized a handful of these firearms during encounters with the rebels.
His order came after the Army’s 27th Brigade intercepted 4 AK-47s at a checkpoint in Tboli, South Cotabato. The arms were supposedly transported by the NPAs from Tulunan in Cotabato for its guerrilla front in the said province.
Cruz said they have been monitoring cargo ships making port calls in Surigao provinces where there are heavy mining activities, mostly mineral ore extraction by Chinese mining companies.
Cruz believed the AK-47s came from China.
Early smuggling attempts
The AK-47s used to be issued only to top cadres of the communist underground movement but are seldom used and fired because of difficulties procuring ammunition.
This first batch of AK-47s to land in the hands of the NPAs was what little was left in the failed MV Karagatan gun smuggling case in 1972 where more than 1,200 M-14 and AK-47 rifles were shipped from China.
China then was actively supporting and arming communist insurgencies in Asia.
The ship however ran aground off the shores of Palanan in Isabela and was spotted by a reconnaissance plane of the AFP. As former Army lieutenant-turned NPA rebel then again government soldier Col. Victor Corpuz recounted, a fierce encounter took place before the guerrilla unit he was commanding could finish unloading the smuggled firearms.
Corpuz and his band of NPA guerrillas retreated after suffering casualties and were only able to recover a few hundred of rifles, some of them Soviet-made AK-47s.
The AK-47 is a favorite assault rifle because of its durability even under different extreme conditions and simple mechanism with an accuracy rated as “good enough.”
Around 75 million AK-47s and their variants have been manufactured. In contrast, the standard M16 rifles used by Western countries and their allies have built only 8 million. Including their variants, the AK-47s now in use worldwide could number up to 100 million, or almost 1/5 of the world’s manufactured assault weapons.
The gas-fired assault rifles uses a 7.62mm cartridge, similar to the M14s but slightly shorter with its shell casing a bit bigger in diameter.
It can fire up to 600 rounds per minute and has an effective range of 400 meters at semi-automatic firing and 330 meters when fired at full automatic mode. When fired, it has a muzzle velocity of 715 meters per second. While these specs are slightly behind the M16s which can fire up to 950 rounds per minute at velocity of 948 meters per second, the AK-47s have been said to fire even when soaked in mud or water for extended period.
“It doesn’t break, jam, or overheat. It’ll shoot whether it’s covered in mud or filled with sand,” as Yuri Orlov described in in the Lord of Wars movie starred by Nicolas Cage.
Most armies have found the AK-47 easy to operate and clean. No wonder it is also the world’s most smuggled assault rifle and is also a favorite among criminals and syndicates.
With police authorities and the military now keeping a tight watch on more AK-47s landing in the hands of the state enemies, the NPAs could find themselves toting assault rifles with limited supply of bullets.
Unless the NPAs have their own ordnance production team, they might soon discard their iconic weapons and revert to ‘cleaning up’ M-16s during ambuscades and raids.
Ammos for the AK-47s are likely also imported too as the Philippines produces only 5.56 cartridges for M16 rifles and the bigger 7.52 of the M-14s. The NPAs are however noted to be very economical in firing their weapons with the orientation of making sure the target is within sight and range.
Still, they will have to look for other means to find bullets for their weapons of choice.