Philippine leader keeps gun despite outcry

Philippine President Benigno Aquino may continue to carry a gun despite an impending ban on bearing firearms in the run-up to polls, an election official said on Saturday.

Gun ownership is a sensitive topic in the Philippines, where calls are growing for tighter controls or an outright ban in the aftermath of a series of shootings starting on New Year's Eve that have left 23 people dead.

The ruling by the official Commission on Elections exempted Aquino, a gun enthusiast and competitive shooter, on the basis that he is constitutionally the head of the military.

"We have exempted the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and since the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, then by necessary implication, (the exemption) covers the president," said Emil Maranon, an official in the commission.

Presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte hailed the ruling, saying, "we welcome the (commission) statement that as commander-in-chief, President Aquino is exempted".

The ban, which takes effect on Sunday and will be in place for six months, is intended to minimise violence ahead of local and congressional elections in May.

It is not unusual for local officials to seek exemption from gun bans, which are routinely imposed before elections, but Maranon said this was the first time he could recall a president applying.

Speaking before an anti-crime group on Saturday, Aquino said the government was studying whether the problem was lack of gun control laws or just poor enforcement.

"Is the problem about licensed gun owners, or lawless elements? Will a total gun ban really deter kidnappers, murderers, and robbers.... Is it a question of passing new legislation or more strictly implementing existing laws?" he said.

On Wednesday, Aquino dismissed calls for a total ban on civilians carrying guns after a series of deadly shootings, saying it was a "knee-jerk reaction" to the issue.

Two children died from bullet wounds caused by gunfire from New Year revellers. A few days later a drugs-crazed gunman shot dead seven people during a 30-minute rampage on the outskirts of Manila, before police killed him.

Security forces shot another 13 people dead last Sunday in a case that has embarrassed the government and highlighted major corruption problems in the police and military.

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