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Comelec blinks, says Aquino exempted from gun ban


President Benigno Aquino III. AP

MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections is now singing a different tune on the issue of exempting President Aquino from the election gun ban.

After declaring that no one, not even the President, was to be exempt from the five-month firearms prohibition, the Comelec now says that Mr. Aquino, owing to his status as commander in chief of the Armed Forces as well as being a gun sportsman may freely tote a gun during the election period.

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. on Friday announced that the President was “actually exempted” from the gun ban during the 120-day election period, which starts on Sunday, Jan. 13 and ends on June 12.

“All the soldiers and policemen are already exempted and here is their chief executive asking for one,” he said.

“The President need not ask for an exemption as commander in chief. Just to clarify, he is actually exempted,” Brillantes said at a command conference with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the Department of Education at the Comelec offices Friday.

The President had applied for a personal exemption, through PNP Chief Director General Alan Purisima, asking the poll body if he could be allowed to carry a “short firearm” during the period covered by the ban.

Comelec Resolution No. 9561 prohibits anyone—with the exception of at least 38 groups—from carrying a gun during the five-month period before and immediately after the May 2013 elections.

Earlier this week, Brillantes categorically stated that the President was not among those covered by the exemption. He said Mr. Aquino was not automatically covered because the exemption was granted to security personnel assigned to secure officials rather than the officials themselves.

“Which means if you are the Senate President, you won’t be given exemption but your security [will be]. That’s the rule,” he said.

“No one, no matter how mighty and powerful, is above the law,” said Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.

On Friday, however, Brillantes was seeking to correct supposed “misinterpretations” of the Comelec guidelines listing the entities that can apply immunity from the gun ban.

He said the Comelec initially “wanted to make sure” because the President may have been applying for an exemption for his driver or security.

“He was not included in the resolution only because it was unnecessary to include him. It is already presumed that he is supposed to be exempted,” he said.

He also clarified that the letter asking for a personal exemption for Mr. Aquino was signed by the PNP chief.

The Comelec could not praise the President enough for submitting an application for exemption, saying that he was setting an example for gun owners to follow the rules.

By applying for a personal exemption, Mr. Aquino was “leading by example,” said Election Commissioner Elias Yusoph, who heads the committee on the gun ban.

“He is informing the public that if you want to have personal exemption from the gun ban then you should apply before the Comelec,” said Yusoph.

Like Brillantes’ about-face, Yusoph on Friday also said it was not necessary for Mr. Aquino to secure a personal exemption because he was the commander in chief.

Yusoph stressed, however, that shootfests and other firing competitions are strictly prohibited until the end of the election period.

However, an exemption was made for some members of a group called the Philippine Practical Shooting Association for a shooting competition in Australia, he said. A check with the group’s website showed that the competition is to be held in New Zealand in February and March.

“There is a shooting competition in Australia and the Philippines is one of the participants. We have guaranteed exemption to those who will be competing so they can practice for the competition,” said Yusoph.

The group was allowed an exemption because the shooting competition was to be held abroad, he explained.

Otherwise, its members would not be able to practice with their guns while in the country during the election period, he said.

Comelec Resolution No. 9561 has also provided exemptions from the gun ban for those claiming to be facing death threats. The exemptions are, however, limited to candidates and family members within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity.

And even then, those faced with death threats may not apply to carry firearms themselves. The Comelec allows them only up to two security personnel or bodyguards.

The Comelec would also require proof and a filing fee of P5,000, among others, from those who claim to face death threats.

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Tags: Armed Forces of the Philippines , Benigno Aquino III , Comelec , Commission on Elections , election gun ban , Gun Ban exemption , Sixto Brillantes Jr. , Total Gun Ban

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