On May 9, 2022, the Philippines will hold their next presidential elections. In an attempt to minimize election-related violence, the government has imposed a national firearms ban as of January 9, 2022. January 9 was the official start of the 150-day election period; the ban will remain in place until June 8, 2022, one month after the elections. The firearms ban involves a suspension of all Permits to Carry Firearms Outside of Residence; the only people able to carry firearms will be on-duty police officers. Checkpoints have been set up in strategic locations where police can conduct a visual search of vehicles for any firearms. Individuals are not required to leave their vehicles at these checkpoints, or to open any bags, glove compartments, or trunks, unless there is a lawful reason for the police to conduct a further investigation. Reactions to the firearms ban have been mixed, with many people concerned due to the tendencies of the current government, under President Rodrigo Duterte, to abuse human rights and ignore democratic norms.
Five citizens were arrested on the first day of the firearms ban, and the penalties include a prison term of one to six years, disqualification from public office, and the loss of the right to vote. There have been very few public responses to this issue from within the Philippines, which is likely in part due to the limited freedom of the press. Despite the freedom of the press being entrenched in the Constitution, the Duterte government has limited this right, through actions such as closing the largest broadcasting network in the country, and threats such as saying that journalists are “not exempt from assassination.”
A major concern that has risen from outside of the country is that historically, giving the military and police a monopoly over violence can have negative consequences. This fear, combined with fears about the history of the Duterte government, raise the concern of if this firearms ban will really support peace in the election period, or if it will be an opportunity for the government to increase rights abuses and violence against citizens. David Timberman has said that the “Duterte government’s track record regarding human rights and democracy is undoubtedly disturbing.” A key focus of his time as President has been to fight the war on drugs, however, this has led to thousands of deaths of those using or selling drugs; deaths that police claim to be due to resisting arrests, but that are believed to truly be premeditated extra-judicial killings. Duterte has also been noted to tend to ignore the norms of democracy and to use strategies such as intimidation to weaken challenges to his authority.
The most recent midterm elections held in 2019 were described as generally peaceful in the Philippines. The most recent full elections, held in 2016, were also described as mostly peaceful, however, these elections did see more violence. At least 10 people died in election-day violence, and 15 people were killed in election-related events before election day. As the Philippines enter the 2022 elections, there is reason to be concerned about the level of election-related violence that might occur. Whether the firearms ban will be a positive step to prevent violence is yet to be seen. There is the possibility that the results of this firearms ban could be successful in decreasing election-related violence and be a positive step toward a peaceful election and transition of power in the Philippines. However, there is also the possibility that the monopoly on power being given to the police and military could be abused to create further human rights abuses under the remainder of the Duterte administration’s time in power.
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