MANILA, Philippines --- As the nationwide gun ban officially took effect yesterday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Jessie D. Dellosa reminded soldiers and paramilitary personnel to strictly observe rules and regulations on the carrying of firearms during the election period.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan M. Purisima, for his part, warned gun holders against bringing their firearms outside their residences, unless they have acquired exemptions from the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
In his reminder, Dellosa said since soldiers are the mandated protectors of the people, they have the responsibility to act as exemplars by serving as agents of peace and security especially during the election period.
As such, he called on troops to ''adhere to existing regulations pertaining to the firearms control program and actively and diligently participate in ensuring the honest, orderly and peaceful conduct of the 2013 elections.''
''Let us continue our active support to the PNP and other mandated civilian government agencies,'' the AFP chief said.
In line with this, the AFP has issued strict guidelines to instill awareness and enforce compliance among all soldiers and paramilitary personnel regarding the firearms control program.
By regulation, regular members of the AFP, Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit
(CAFGU) Active Auxiliaries, and Special CAFGU Active Auxiliaries are authorized to bear firearms based on the following provisions: (1) wearing AFP-prescribed uniforms with visible names and rank; (2) in actual performance of official duty; and (3) the firearm is governed with appropriate documents.
To ensure a violence-free election period, Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, Jr. said the AFP is ready to undertake active support to the PNP through the Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Centers (JPSCC) in implementing the national firearms ban and Comelec checkpoints for the duration of the 2013 election period.
Burgos said the military will augment checkpoints, especially in areas identified as election hotspots.
Also yesterday, a nationwide unity walk and prayer rally and the implementation of the gun ban signaled the start of the election period.
Early Sunday morning, government officials along with representatives from the police and military and other stakeholders staged a simultaneous ''unity walk'' and prayer rally in various parts of the country to underscore their appeal to the people to uphold the integrity of the election process, and to elevate the level of maturity of the Filipino electorate.
In Quezon City, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas spearheaded the activity before flying in to Samar province for the signing of a peace covenant that formally marked the start of the 120-day election period.
Roxas led the ''unity walk'' and inter-faith prayer for Secure and Fair Elections in 2013 (SAFE 2013), which started in different parts of Metro Manila and culminated at the Quezon Memorial Circle.
About 3,000 people from various government agencies-including the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), PNP, Comelec, AFP, and Department of Education (DepEd), as well as those from private groups and civil society joined the morning rally for peaceful elections.
In a related development, a man who urinated in public turned out to be the first to be arrested just minutes after the gun ban took effect yesterday when policemen who accosted him found a fragmentation grenade in his possession.
Information reaching the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame identified the man as Bernato B. Daria alias ''Tangoy'', said to be a ''batang city jail'' (BCJ) gang member.
Elements of the Pasay City police station 7 were conducting patrol when they chanced upon Tangoy relieving himself in public view at EDSA corner M. Dela Cruz St. in Pasay City.
Meanwhile, citing security threats on their lives, the Comelec has allowed some politicians to retain their police escorts even as the 120-day election period is in effect.
Comelec Commissioner Elias Yusoph, chairman of the Committee on the Ban on Firearms and Security Personnel (CBFSP), said the poll body amended the guidelines for local officials to release the police personnel they have been assigned to as security.
''We decided that those officials who have regular policemen should be retained by them because their lives are stake,'' he said. (With a report from Raymund F. Antonio)