[JURIST] The Philippines on Sunday officially began a nationwide 150-day ban on the carrying of firearms in public areas in preparation for congressional and local elections slated for mid-May. Only top-officials, military and police entities will be exempt from the law's proscriptive scope, which punishes violators with up to a six-year jail term. According to media sources, the ban is predicated on a national desire for peaceful elections [AP report] in the wake of the nation's history of political violence, and in particular, an especially bloody 2009 clash in the southern Maguindanao Province [CSM backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that killed 58. Military and police contingents are charged with enforcing the law in nearly 800 cities across the nation, where sources allege that more than 60 private militias and 50 criminal gangs may seek to influence election results by way of intimidation and violence. The ban is part of national initiative led by President Benigno Aquino III [official website] that seeks to mitigate gun violence with more restrictive gun-ownership and possession laws. According to sources, 50 million Philippine citizens are expected to cast their vote in May for nearly 18,000 national and local political positions, including 300 seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Philippine political clashes, and in particular, the events at Maguindanao have led to serious debate about gun violence in the nation. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the 2009 Maguindanao massacre is the single deadliest event for the press [CPJ report] since the CPJ began keeping records of journalists deaths in 1992. In the last 20 years, at least 72 journalists have been killed for their work in the Philippines, making it the second deadliest country in the world for journalists behind Iraq. Litigation surrounding the Maguindanao massacre has been a source of contentious debate. In November 2012 Amnesty International urged [JURIST report] Philippine authorities to put a stop to the killings of Maguindanao massacre witnesses and their families. Earlier that month, the Philippines high court overturned [JURIST report] a year-old decision to allow for live broadcast of the trial, a rescission that was opposed by Aquino on the grounds that it could impede the transparency of the trial. In June 2011 the court also decided [JURIST report] to freeze $23 million in assets belonging to massacre suspects.