Posted April 21, 2007 05:07:00(Mla Time)
BANGUED, ABRA—A total gun ban is now in force in Abra province after Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Benjamin Abalos, Sr. revoked all the exemption given by the poll body to civilian gun owners here.
“I am revoking the permits issued to every civilian in Abra,” Abalos said during his speech at the signing of a peace covenant of all local candidates of the province last Thursday at Camp Juan Villamor.
Abalos said that candidates can request for police and military escorts if necessary so that they would no longer rely on their “private security.”
Abalos, the commissioner in charge for the province, said that the total gun ban was a “remedy” to the proliferation of private armed groups allegedly being maintained by politicians, as well as a way to “prevent” the eruption of violence in the province.
13 private armies
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has reported to then Abra CIC, Comelec Commissioner Romeo Brawner, that 13 private armies are supposedly operating in the province.
Brawner had urged authorities to take steps in identifying and disbanding these private armies.
Abra Gov. Vicente Valera told reporters on Thursday that disbanding the so-called private armies “is one means of ensuring peace in the elections.”
Valera said he does not have a private army.
And if there were allegations that he has one, Valera challenged the police and the military to identify members of his alleged private army and have them say that he was the one behind it.
Former Task Force Abra chief, Chief Supt. Eugene Martin, said that the PNP has identified the politicians maintaining private armies.
However, Martin stopped short of identifying them, saying members of private armies they had arrested had so far refused to say who they were working for. This had made it difficult to file appropriate charges against these politicians.
Martin has recently been promoted and will take a new post as deputy regional director for administration. He was replaced by Senior Supt. Villamor Bumanglag as Task Force Abra chief.
Top police and military officials have taken note of the relative peace in Abra in the run-up to the May 14 mid-term elections.
But PNP Director General Oscar Calderon said the PNP was aware that the counting of ballots “is the most sensitive part” of the elections which is why the police will work “to secure the area” during the counting.
“We are committed to our aspiration to have peaceful elections without intimidation and threat. (The police) are aware of the dynamics of the politics and the political rivalries here. Our solution is to have a dialogue like this,” Calderon said at the peace covenant signing.
Calderon also urged politicians and the public to file appropriate charges against police officers who are allegedly engaged in partisan politics in Abra.
“It is unfair to the organization to make sweeping accusations and the police officers should also be given a chance to defend themselves,” Calderon said.
On stand by
Most of those who attended the peace covenant signing agreed that military troops are needed to augment the police security force.
But Armed Forces Chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said that the 41st Army Infantry Battalion stationed in Abra and the Army 5th division “on stand by” in Narvacan, La Union would currently be enough.
A military augmentation force would only be deployed if requested by the Comelec provincial officer, he said.