MANILA (Updated, 10:30 a.m.) – Forty-seven people were arrested at checkpoints across the country, as 50,000 policemen began enforcing a five-month ban on carrying firearms in public Sunday.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Deputy Director General for Operations Jefferson Soriano told ANC that the 47 consisted of five PNP personnel, three members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), three government officials, and 36 civilians.

The gun ban policy ordered by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is part of the security preparations for the coming May polls. It is aimed to avoid bloodshed in the buildup to the May elections, said national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina.

"They (arrested persons) carried their firearms outside their homes and stations without permits, or while they were off-duty and in civilian clothes," Espina said.

National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) reported that most of the violators were apprehended in different checkpoints set at strategic places in Metro Manila.

NCRPO Chief Roberto Rosales identified the arrested policemen as Police Officer (PO) 1 Aldrin Almanza and Senior Police Officer (SPO) 1 William Ronquilo, the two others are yet to be identified.

Staff Sergeant Michale Basahan and two others were also found to have violated the gun ban.

Lawyer Tecson John Lim, reportedly the provincial administrator of Quirino province, was also arrested for gun possession.

Also accosted were Ernani Perez, Leopoldo Francisco, Rogel Gutierrez, and Juan Carlos Maglaque, who was carrying an AK-47 replica.

Other three persons arrested in Metro Manila have yet to be identified, said Rosales, adding that they were apprehended at checkpoints manned by police personnel in various areas in Quezon City and Camanava (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, and Valenzuela).

PNP Director-General Jesus Verzosa, for his part, said another violator identified as Tony Abalos, a retired soldier, was also arrested in Zamboanga City.

Abalos is a resident of Cabaluay village in Zamboanga City and was caught possessing a caliber .45 pistol and ammunitions. He was subjected to inquest proceeding before the City Prosecutor's Office following his apprehension.

He was nabbed around 1 a.m. Sunday by policemen from the Police Station 5 manning a checkpoint in the village of Divisoria, said Senior Superintendent Edwin De Ocampo, Zamboanga City Police officer-in-charge.

Abalos has license to possess firearms and with corresponding permit-to-carry outside residence, "but he (Abalos) don't have a Comelec (Commission on Elections) gun ban exemption," Verzosa said.

Under the ban ordered by the Comelec, carrying firearms, explosives and other weapons in public will be prohibited from January 10, until June 9. Only policemen and soldiers, who are on duty and in uniform, can bear arms during the ban.

Government employees violating the order face up to six years imprisonment and dismissal from work. Foreigners can be jailed or deported.

With this, Rosales reminded his men deployed at security checkpoints across the country to wear proper uniform with nametags easily seen, saying any violation will result to administrative charges.

"I have already directed the five police district commanders and 37 police station commanders to ensure that their men are strictly following the rules as I will not tolerate any wrongdoing," he said.

The police official has also ordered his men to go after members of other law enforcement agencies, including the AFP, who violate the gun ban.

About 30 election officers are monitoring the checkpoints in Metro Manila alone, while the Armed Forces Command has deployed 166 personnel to augment their police counterparts on Sunday.

The Comelec is hoping that the gun ban implementation would help in minimizing election-related violence in the Philippines.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said violence could be reduced since only those people in authority or those who were certified could carry guns.

Under gun ban rules, only members of the AFP, PNP, and other government security agencies are allowed to carry firearms.

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Leila De Lima, however, reminded those authorized to carry guns to respect the rights of motorists.

She said the rights of all persons stopped at checkpoints should be respected, including their right to privacy and the right to be secure in their persons.

De Lima also asked Rosales to issue clear guidelines on how to implement the "plain view" doctrine regarding checks for firearms, and how to approach and talk to motorists at checkpoints.

She said police personnel should always wear name labels on their uniforms while manning the checkpoints, which should also be clearly identifiable as official checkpoints.

The CHR said both these conditions are required by law, adding that the public can report any violations to its offices or through the commission's hotline at 377-2477.

Gun bans are common practice before elections, but this year police will not issue any exemptions to gun owners due to security concerns sparked by the November 23 Maguindanao massacre, which killed at least 57 people, including 30 journalists. Suspects in the carnage are followers and members of a political clan.

Thus authorities said Sunday that under the new gun ban, politicians, both incumbent and running in the May polls, are not allowed to carry firearms. Only their security escorts are allowed.

Aside from the gun ban, other prohibited acts during the election period include transferring of state workers and suspending elective local officials.

The poll body explained that the purpose of the provision is to avoid the filling up of positions as a manner that may influence the election and its results. (AH/FP/With Bong Garcia/Sunnex)