US soldier in the Philippines apprehended for violating gun ban

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Friday, January 26, 2007

A US soldier, Army Master Sergeant Steve Saunders, was arrested in General Santos City (Gensan) for carrying a firearm, a violation of the nationwide gun ban imposed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) during the election period.

Saunders, a member of the US Army Engineering Corps and United Nations Peacekeeping Force who are in the Philippines on a humanitarian mission, was apprehended by police officers while in a drinking spree inside a bar after a report.

The Comelec imposed the nationwide gun ban for the period starting January 14 until June 14. Under the law, violators will be jailed for six years.

According to reports, the US soldier was drunk and carrying a 9-mm pistol while inside the bar, where a group of local journalists were having fun. He reportedly hit a radio correspondent, Henry Araneta, for no apparent reason at the Cassado Bar of East Asia Royale Hotel at dawn Thursday.

The American soldier was drunk, Araneta said, adding that he will file a slight physical injury charge against Saunders.

"I want to teach him a lesson. I could not accept that a foreigner hit me in our own country," he said, according to the report, noting that he could have just ignored the incident if the suspect was a Filipino.

Saunders was brought to the Joint Task Force(JTF)-Gensan headquarters. He was later released and sent to Manila.

When contacted for comment, Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, 6th ID spokesperson, did not answer his cellular phone, which was turned off later on, report said.

Colonel Medardo Geslani, JTF-Gensan chief, told reporters that the firearm taken from Saunders during the arrest was issued by his military unit. He concluded that Sanders did not violate the Comelec gun ban.

US Embassy spokesperson, Matthew Lussenhop, quickly brushed off allegations Saunders was violating the gun ban but he said the soldier may face sanctions from the US military.

The militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (National Patriotic Alliance) asked local Comelec to investigate the case, emphasizing that no special treatment should be given to Sanders, or any member of the visiting US forces.

Bill Andres of Bayan said this was another example of a US serviceman getting off lightly after violating Philippine laws.