MANILA - A ban on carrying firearms went into force in the Philippines Sunday before local elections, amid growing debate about the need for stricter controls following a series of shooting deaths.
The ban will end on June 13 and is meant to curb violence linked to mid-term elections in May, when the country elects thousands of local officials ranging from governors to senators.
"We have set up random checkpoints across the country," to enforce the ban, Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez said on radio station DZMM. Jimenez said the campaign would likely lead to arrests soon, though none had happened in the first hours of the ban. The ban covers the carrying of firearms, the hiring of armed bodyguards by candidates and the transporting of arms, explosives, raw materials or parts, the elections body said.
Exempted from the ban were members of the police, armed forces and President Benigno Aquino - himself a gun enthusiast.
Aquino had earlier rejected calls to declare a permanent, total gun ban as a knee-jerk reaction following high-profile gun-related deaths since the start of the year. Two children died from bullet wounds caused by celebratory gunfire from New Year revellers.
Just a few days later a drug-crazed gunman shot dead seven people during a 30-minute rampage on the outskirts of Manila, before police killed him. And on Sunday last week security forces shot 13 alleged criminals dead. Rights monitors have said the proliferation of unlicensed guns fuels a sense of impunity across the Philippines, where some politicians employ private militias to threaten rivals and voters.
According to police data, there were 1.2 million registered firearms in the Philippines as of last year, with roughly another 600,000 unlicensed firearms in circulation.
While carrying an unlicensed firearm is punishable by up to six years in prison, it is relatively easy to acquire guns on the black market.