MANILA, Philippines – By midnight on Sunday, January 13, the election period starts with the implementation of a weapons ban and the activation of at least 1,634 election checkpoints across the country.
The gun ban for the 2013 midterm polls, however, takes effect in a more politically charged environment than in past election cycles, given recent incidents of crime and the intensity of political rivalries that the President’s party faces.
The ban also takes effect amid calls for stricter control measures, or even a total gun ban, after deaths from stray bullets, a shooting spree, and an alleged rubout at a checkpoint were reported earlier this month.
President Aquino, a gun enthusiast, is lukewarm to passing new laws and has called instead for stricter implementation of existing ones. Citing a 10% decline in crime volume nationwide, except in Metro Manila, he implied that crimes are committed not by owners of licensed guns but by owners of loose firearms.
The latest statistics gathered on the Philippines by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime show that, as of 2003, there were 7,349 cases of homicide that involved the use of firearms – or 8 to 9 persons for every 100,000 population. They accounted for half of all homicide cases in the country that year.
The gun ban will also be implemented in the face of quickly changing, if not conflicting, numbers of private armed groups (PAGs) or private armies provided by the police and the military. The latest count, as announced in a command conference on January 11, is 52 active PAGs and 128 that could still be tapped.
Two days before the ban was to take effect, the government reiterated its list of 15 hot spot provinces, where violence is expected to erupt given the intense rivalries of candidates.
The credibility of the list has been questioned in various political camps, however. A check by Rappler shows that a number of those on the list are provinces where members of the President’s Liberal Party are on one-on-one gubernatorial races: Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Cavite, and Batangas. Not all have been on the violence watchlist in the past 4 elections.
In towns and cities in these provinces, as well as other areas regarded as prone to violence and other peace and order threats, the police and the military may order the setting up of additional checkpoints, according to Commission on Elections Resolution 9588.
Under Comelec Resolution 9561, unless holding a written approval from the poll body, no individual is allowed to carry a licensed firearm and other lethal weapons outside the house or a business establishment. The transport and sale of firearm spareparts are also prohibited.
The gun ban will be in place for exactly 5 months – or until 30 days after the May 13 senatorial and local elections. Checkpoints will be a common sight for that long as well.
Citizens should be armed another way – by keeping basic information on checkpoints and how they can avoid being harassed at these stops. Read “What a Comelec checkpoint looks like” to know what make election checkpoints legitimate. Likewise, know what to do when you’re stopped at a checkpoint to make sure your rights are not violated. You may download and save this Rappler tip sheet.
Motorists should also be aware of cases or incidents when they invite police suspicion at checkpoints. – Rappler.com