Since the suspension of gun-carrying privileges in Masbate in January amid a spate of killings, the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the island-province had confiscated at least 1,596 loose or unlicensed firearms from 1, 521 persons, according to a PNP Masbate report.
The number of seized guns was however way below the estimated 4,695 illegally owned firearms in Masbate. The total number of loose guns came from a ranking police official who requested anonymity due the sensitivity of the information.
The operation against loose guns also resulted in the seizure of 13,804 other deadly weapons, said the report signed by Masbate police director Senior Superintendent Heriberto Olitoquit.
Olitoquit, in a phone interview, said he and Senior Supt. Arnold Albis, commander of Special Task Force Masbate (STF Masbate), ordered all police personnel in Masbate to “go hard” against private armed groups, criminal gangs, fugitives, and owners of unlicensed firearms.
Albis said 13,804 assorted deadly weapons were confiscated since the crime drive started on Jan. 13. Police operatives also arrested four suspected gunrunners and seized from them various kinds of firearms, he added.
Albis said the task group has also intensified tracking operation to deactivate known Private Armed Groups (PAGs) employed by some unscrupulous local politicians who want to win at all costs this midterm election.
The Commission on Election has declared Masbate province as an election “hot spot” because of intense political rivalries among its candidates.
The intensified police operations in Masbate followed a series of gun-related killings in March that saw nine people dead. Police considered at least three of the murders as election-related.
The operations led the tracker team headed by Senior Inspector Rodel Pescuela to the arrest of Mabini Municipal Councilor Juan Rumo and his relative Filmor Rumo for illegal possession of firearms.
The arrest came four days after a caliber .45 pistol and ammunition were seized from businessman Aladino Etcovañez, 49, in Barangay (village) Katipunan in Placer town, 66 kilometers southeast of Masbate City.
On March 24, hundreds of Masbate residents took part in a third “walk for peace” calling for peaceful, honest, and orderly elections in the province, long in the Commission on Elections’ list of election hotspots for its history of political violence.
The march culminated in a Palm Sunday Mass celebrated by Bishop Jose Bantolo of the Diocese of Masbate.
Two days earlier, murder suspect Anthony Funelas, 31, the so-called seventh most wanted person in San Fernando town in Ticao, one of the three primary islands that compose the province, was arrested in Daraga, Albay.