By PNA and U.S. News Agency / Asian
Law enforcers in Masbate are requesting Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome to come up with an order for the implementation of a gun ban in the island province ahead of the 2013 election period.
PNP regional director for Bicol Chief Supt. Jose Arne de los Santos on Wednesday said the Masbate Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) headed by Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete made the request based on a recommendation by the Provincial Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (PLECC).
In its recommendation, the PLECC stressed that the gun ban should take effect way ahead of the election period that officially starts on January 1 so that local law enforcers are given more teeth in curtailing politically-motivated violent incidents in the province with the use of guns, De los Santos said.
The PLECC which was formed to act as a consultative arm of the PPOC on matters regarding criminality and law enforcement is composed among others of members from the provincial PNP office headed by Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit, Philippine Coast Guard-Masbate Station, Aviation Security Group (ASG) and the Highway Patrol Group (HPG).
Apart from the local police force, the maintenance of peace and order in the province during election periods is also being attended to by Special Task Force Masbate (STFM), an elite unit of lawmen from the PNP Bicol Regional Mobile Group (RMG), the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), the Police Special Forces (PSF) and the Philippine Army (PA).
According to the PLECC, firearms in the possession of either licensed gun-holders or unlicensed owners remain a big threat to the conduct of peaceful, orderly and credible elections in Masbate given its history of violence among warring political camps. In all past elections, the province is placed under the control of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) being a “hot spot”.
Masbate is considered as the “Murder Capital of Bicol” and this label was earned from its bloody political history and the proliferation of loose firearms that mostly are in the hands of private armies allegedly employed by local politicians and their followers.
Police records show that there are at least 3,000 licensed firearms in the possession of some 1,300 registered civilian owners that include private security agencies in the province while the loose firearms are estimated to be more than 4,400.
These loose firearms are remnants of the over 4,000 that were either confiscated or surrendered by politicians who were pressed hard by the STFM into giving up their guns and disbanding their private armed groups.
That campaign of the Task Force resulted to a relatively peaceful and orderly conduct of the 2010 elections in the province.
De los Santos said he is personally in favor of implementing an early gun ban in Masbate insofar as the licensed firearms are concerned, but it is only the PNP chief who is in the position to come up with an order for the suspension or cancellation of the Permits to Carry (PTC) issued to gun owners.
In the case of loose firearms, he said “the ban is in effect 24/7, elections or no elections because such hardware is illegal and the police or any other law enforcement agencies have the authority to confiscate them on site or through legal processes like securing warrants from the court”.
In fact, De los Santos said that during the first half of this year, the Masbate police have already recovered over a hundred unlicensed firearms and filed criminal charges against its holders as the PNP regional office intensifies its campaign under “Oplan Kontra Boga” not only in that province but in the entire Bicol region.
So far, he said 160 unlicensed guns have been confiscated under this Oplan from all over the region where nearly a total of 30,000 loose firearms are reportedly in the hands of illegal holders.
Based on the regional PNP records, Camarines Sur had a total of 11,412 unregistered firearms, the biggest compared to the other five provinces in the region.
Albay came next with 7,829, followed by Masbate with 4,403; Camarines Norte with 2,860; Sorsogon, 2,777; and Catandunes, 694.
These figures were collated based on intelligence reports and records of un-renewed firearm registrations and licenses, De los Santos said.
“We wanted to recover as many as we could if not all of these loose guns before the next elections to minimize if not totally prevent election-related violence in Masbate and in the entire region,” he said.
Besides, he added PNP Chief Bartolome had already activated the National Committee for HOPE 2013 in preparations to ensure honest, orderly and peaceful elections on May 13, 2013.
As part of the preparations, the PNP together with other law enforcement agencies deputized by the COMELEC will intensify and sustain law enforcement, security and public safety operations before, during and after the elections to thwart the occurrence of violent incidents that may disrupt the conduct of elections in any part of the country.
The PNP, this early, according to De los Santos is already strictly implement laws and regulations pertaining to the bearing and carrying of firearms through the intensified conduct of checkpoints and choke points, search warrant operations, accounting of wanted persons and other anti-criminality and police security operations.