Strict enforcement of gun ban vowed By Jerome Aning, Alcuin Papa Inquirer Last updated 01:14am (Mla time) 12/21/2006 Published on page A1 of the December 21, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer AMID fears of an upsurge of political violence, Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos yesterday announced that the Comelec would strictly implement the firearms ban during the coming election period. Only law enforcers such as the police as well as the military will be allowed to carry guns during the election period from Jan. 14 to June 13, Abalos told reporters. We wont even give exemptions to private bodyguards, he told reporters. The Comelec will be stringent in enforcing the firearms ban and work not just for the filing of charges against the violator but also for the disqualification of the candidate which the violator is affiliated with, he said. Abalos said that the murder of Abra Rep. Luis Bersamin on Saturday and the earlier death threats against Representatives Prospero Nograles and Robert Dodot Jaworski Jr. did not necessarily mean that the May elections would be violent. The police have yet to determine if these cases are politically motivated so we should not just say that the next elections would be violent, he said. Also, the attacks on and threats to lawmakers cannot justify proposals that politicians and their supporters should begin arming themselves, said Abalos. Such predictions [of election-related violence], for me, will only provoke and alarm political leaders and their supporters, he said. Under election laws, the police would make the proper recommendations to Comelec whether a locality should be placed on a watch list or branded as a hot spot during the election period. Security for lawmakers The Constitution gives the Comelec wide powers to deputize the police to keep peace and order in areas where there are potential outbreaks of violence. Close to 70 lawmakers had requested additional police security, citing threats to their lives even before the Bersamin slaying, said Senior Supt. Romeo Hilomen, chief of the Philippine National Police Security and Protection Office (PSPO). Hilomen said around 60 congressmen and seven senators were provided protection by his office. The lawmakers included Speaker Jose de Venecia and Senate President Manuel Villar, who Hilomen said the PNP was obligated to protect under the law, Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Panfilo Lacson, Luisa Loi Ejercito and Jamby Madrigal. Bersamin himself had requested additional police security around four months ago. The threats to (their) lives were validated by our intelligence group, Hilomen told reporters. He explained that the threats on the legislators emanated from their personal, business and political affairs. High-risk politician Hilomen said the number of additional police security assigned to the lawmakers would depend on the level of the threat they were facing. If the threat to their lives is high, additional police security could range from two to four, he said. Hilomen acknowledged that Bersamin had three PSPO policemen as bodyguards because he was considered a high-risk politician. But at the wedding of his niece at Mt. Carmel Church in Quezon City on Saturday where he was killed, Bersamin apparently did not bring his PSPO staff, said Hilomen. He said that despite the murder of Bersamin, no lawmaker had asked for additional police security. The PSPO has more than 2,000 policemen under the command of Hilomen. He said the policemen had been given assignments ahead of the 2007 elections. If he thinks the number is not enough, Hilomen said he could ask for more men. For local politicians, PNP regional offices are tasked with acting as their security. Task force PNP Director General Oscar Calderon also announced yesterday the creation of Task Force HOPE (Honest, Orderly, Peaceful Elections) in an attempt to minimize if not eliminate violence in next years elections. Calderon said the task force would be headed by Deputy Director General Antonio Billones, deputy chief for operations. One of its primary concerns would be to enforce the firearms ban beginning next month. I have directed Regional Directors to start applying for search warrants to raid houses of persons reportedly possessing loose firearms, Calderon said. He added that policemen manning checkpoints would be strict and search motorcycle riders riding in tandem, a common modus operandi used in murders and political killings. Ang Kapatiran Also yesterday, Nandy Pacheco, gun control advocate and secretary general of Ang Kapatiran political party, called for the immediate enactment of a total gun ban in public places, saying this would be the best possible Christmas gift of the President and members of both houses of Congress to the Filipino people. Pacheco said the gun ban law should include a stiff penalty for its violationreclusion temporal or from 12 to 20 years imprisonment with no pardon or parole. He said there should also be a ban on tinted windows on motor vehicles whether public or private for the common good. He said only police, military personnel and licensed private security guards in uniform and on duty should be allowed to carry guns in public places. There should be no more exemptions, otherwise, the gun ban becomes a farce, said Pacheco, noting that the gun ban takes effect on Jan. 14 at the start of the May election period.