Total gun ban declared, canvassing suspended in Davao Sur

Romeo Brawner, elections commissioner in-charge for Southeastern Mindanao, directed on Tuesday Commission on Elections personnel and the police to implement the revocation of all previously issued certificates of exemption from the gun ban in Davao del Sur.

But Brawner's chief of staff, Belen Carasig, could not provide the media a list of those issued exemptions, saying the police, in coordination with the Regional Peace and Order Council, are implementing the gun ban anyway.

The canvassing of votes were also suspended due to election protests hurled by both the camps of Davao del Sur second district Rep. Claude Bautista and archrival first district Rep. Douglas Ra Cagas, who are both competing for the gubernatorial post. The latter cried alleged padding in Malita town, bailiwick of the former. Certificates of canvass from four towns, including Malita, have not been tabulated at the provincial level.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, regional peace and order council chair, together with Comelec, police, military, and prosecution officials, announced the enforcement of the total gun ban to reporters in a press conference at The Marco Polo Thursday afternoon.

Duterte warned any one who refuses to surrender firearms, referring to bodyguards securing politicians, will be shot if they offer violent resistance.

He said those caught violating the ban will also be detained as he urged those planning to pass by Davao del Sur to surrender their firearms to the police.

Duterte earlier hinted he will move to disarm both the warring political camps of congressmen Claude Bautista and Douglas Ra Cagas, if asked by the Comelec.

He said the total gun ban will be a way to disband the private armies of any politician in the province, including those who hired criminals among their body guards.

Duterte said, however, that they do not intend to put martial law in place. He said the move seeks to control the culture of intimidation in the province, which has marred democracy in the exercise of free elections.

But he warned that whoever yields to be violating the ban would be nabbed and be detained en route to the filing of proper charges.

He brushed at politicians he did not name who reportedly cuddled criminals among their bodyguards, adding they are the ones causing the biggest problem.

Chief Supt. Andres Caro II, who was with Duterte in the press conference, said the ban means more deployment of troops and conduct of more checkpoints to seal the province in an effort to ensure strict implementation.

Caro said with the gun ban comes the suspension and recall of exemptions granted to political groups and their security personnel "effective immediately" to prevent further occurrence of election-related violence in the province.

He said it will be enforced strictly in the checkpoints. Caro said it means only authorized personnel like the military and the police are allowed to carry firearms.

According to the police regional office, the total ban was intended to curb the intensifying political tension in the province in relation to the killings of Isidro Sarmiento Sr., running for mayor of Malita town, and son Danilo.

Only the winners for the provincial positions in Davao del Sur were not yet proclaimed in Southeastern Mindanao as of Thursday following the killings and election protests over alleged vote-padding, according to Comelec spokesperson Melcar Unso.

Double murder charges have been filed by the Task Force Sarmiento against Bautista, suspect in the Sarmiento killings, at the Provincial Prosecutor's Office in Davao del Sur.

The task force indicated in the complaint that Bautista, a certain Payat Rellon and three unidentified bodyguards, could be responsible for the killings.

Caro said intelligence reports showed Bautista, who has denied the charges in media interviews, is no longer in Davao del Sur.