Total gun ban takes effect Jan. 10
- Jaime Laude () - January 3, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) will enforce the total gun ban nationwide for six months starting Jan. 10, the official start of the election period, to curb election-related violence.

Existing uniformed security personnel assigned to protect national and local government officials will also be recalled, but may be reinstated upon approval of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Responding to a Comelec resolution, PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa yesterday issued a directive suspending all Permits to Carry Firearms Outside of Residence (PTCFORs) effective Jan. 10, up to June 9.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said only regular members of the police and military on official duty are exempted from the total gun ban.

“Only regular plantilla members of the PNP-AFP and other law enforcers who are receiving regular compensation for services rendered are authorized to bear, carry, transport firearms or other deadly weapons while in prescribed uniform with letter orders and mission orders during the actual performance of their official election duties to and from their posts or residences,” Brawner said.

In effect, he said, government paramilitary forces are automatically disqualified from performing security duties and carrying firearms during the election period.

AFP chief Gen. Victor Ibrado said all uniformed personnel presently detailed to national and local officials running in the upcoming elections will be recalled.

“All existing authority granting security detail are revoked effective Jan, 10, 2010. Affected officials/individuals may re-apply for availment of the same with Comelec,” Verzosa said.

Options for politicians

Politicians stripped of their security details have several options to protect themselves during the election period.

Comelec allows local candidates below the rank of mayor to hire two security personnel from private security agencies authorized by the PNP.

Private security personnel must be in complete uniform with their identification cards easily visible when performing their duties.

Candidates for national posts may reapply for uniformed security at the Comelec head office in Intramuros, Manila. They will be charged P5,000 per application and may be allowed two uniformed personnel per approved application.

The Comelec Committee on the Ban on Firearms and Security Personnel will handle the applications.

Politicians in the provinces - from rank of mayor and higher - needing military or police protection may request security assistance from the newly formed Joint Security Control Centers (JSCCs) in their respective regional police headquarters.

The JSCCs are manned by combined military and police forces and chaired by the Comelec regional directors.

‘Oplan Sita,’ ‘Oplan Bakal’

Brawner said that after the suspension of the PTCFORs, the police and military will implement “Oplan Sita” and “Oplan Bakal” against followers of politicians maintaining partisan armed groups (PAGs).

“All persons in civilian attire carrying guns are presumed unauthorized to carry these firearms and subject to arrest and investigation,” according to a Comelec-PNP-AFP joint letter of instruction to all area and regional military and police commanders.

The PNP, therefore, requires all military units and security agencies to submit photos of their prescribed uniforms.

To avoid security complications, candidates with approved police and military details are required to coordinate with the JSCCs when traveling outside their areas.

“They must coordinate their movement. Once they go out of their area with their security details, they stand the risk of getting arrested,” Brawner said.

‘NPA a more serious threat than PAGs’

The League of Municipalities said the New People’s Army (NPA) is a more serious threat to the peace and order of the upcoming elections than private armed groups because they demand a so-called campaign tax from candidates and coerce people to vote for the candidates they support.

Binalonan, Pangasinan Mayor Ramon Guico, LMP president, said the government should focus on neutralizing the NPA during the campaign period to maintain peace and order during the elections.

“Private armies are only isolated in Mindanao and maybe a few in Luzon, but the NPA operates nationwide and they are supporting local and national candidates,” he said.

Guico, who is running for senator under the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD party, said PAGs concentrate on their rival groups in their areas, but the NPA does not choose a political faction in extorting campaign fees.

He said the NPA might begin collecting campaign tax at the start of the campaign period in February.

“National and local candidates have no choice but to pay their campaign fees or face harassment while on the campaign trail. If a candidate does not pay the campaign tax he is exposed to harassment and, in worst cases, killed while in NPA-controlled areas,” he said.

Since the NPA is supporting local and national candidates, Guico said they will likely use force to obtain votes.

“The biggest private armed group in the country is the NPA, so the task force created to dismantle private armies must focus first its attention on the NPA before going after small-time political armed groups,” Guico said. - With Perseus Echeminada and Mike Frialde

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