400 guns rounded up in Tarlac

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Tarlac's Oplan Katok nets 400 firearms since the gun ban took effect.

Text and photo Homer Teodoro, VERA Files

CAMP MACABULOS, Tarlac City—More than 400 handguns, shotguns, assault rifles, long firearms and grenades have been rounded up in Tarlac, President Aquino III’s home province, by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) since the gun ban took effect on Jan. 13.

Of these, 365 were surrendered to different police stations all over the province, including shotguns issued by local government units to barangay chairmen, said Senior Superintendent Alfred S. Corpus, Tarlac-PNP director.

Twenty-six handguns were turned over to the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, according to its battalion commander, Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres Jr. The firearms came from among the battalion’s own ranks who own personal handguns.

Twenty-one handguns, meanwhile, were confiscated from individuals at checkpoints and cases such as illegal possession of firearms and gun ban violation against the owners of the guns, Corpus said.

Two fragmented hand grenades were surrendered to Police Senior Inspector Danilo Silva, chief of police of San Jose.

Silva said a former enlisted man in his town owned the grenades which, he said, will be turned over to the Explosive Operative Division for proper disposal after the May elections.

Corpus credited PNP’s “Oplan Katok” or “Operation Knock Knock” for the successful turnover of the firearms.

He said the Tarlac-PNP has a list of all 5,000 legitimate gun owners in Tarlac. His office then wrote these gun owners encouraging them to bring their guns to the nearest police station for safekeeping.

Because of the list, he said police were able to monitor who failed to renew their license. From there, the PNP visited the gun owners and told them to voluntarily surrender their firearms or else their guns would be confiscated, the PNP provincial chief said.

Those who have valid or “live” licenses were asked to turn over their firearms for safekeeping until the elections are over, he added.

Due to these crackdowns, Corpus assured Tarlac residents of a peaceful election in May. He said no private armed groups (PAGs) operate in the province.

Tarlac has 4,581 precincts and 976 clustered precincts, according to Comelec data.

The AFP said it also has not monitored any New People's Army movement in the hinterlands for a long time.

"We have not monitored any groups that are collecting money among the candidates for permit to campaign or campaign to win," Torres said.

In January, candidates in Tarlac, from the municipal councilors to the gubernatorial candidates, signed a peace covenant for a safe, fair, peaceful and orderly elections.

Lawyer Emmanuel Ignacio, then Comelec regional director, said Tarlac has reached a level of maturity when it comes to holding elections in the province. In his 10 years as regional director, he has never heard even a single gun shot fired during elections, he said.

Ignacio cited the influence of the Church. “The Church in Tarlac has gained prominence and respect among the candidates. That is why every candidate shuns away from offending the Church with their action,” he said.

“Tarlaqueños are peace-loving citizens,” Corpus said, adding that not a shot was fired in the May 2010 presidential elections and he wants things to stay that way.

He said he has issued a memo to all his chief of police to provide security assistance to any local candidate during their campaign.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")

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