MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Aquino may continue to carry a gun despite an impending ban on bearing firearms in the run-up to polls, an election official said on Saturday. Gun ownership is a sensitive topic in the Philippines, where calls are growing for tighter controls or an outright ban in the aftermath of a series of shootings starting on New Year's Eve that have left 23 people dead. The ruling by the official Commission on Elections exempted President Aquino, a gun enthusiast and competitive shooter, on the basis that he is constitutionally the head of the military.

Presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte hailed the ruling, saying, "we welcome the (commission) statement that as commander-in-chief, President Aquino is exempted". The ban, which takes effect on Sunday and will be in place for six months, is intended to minimise violence ahead of local and congressional elections in May. It is not unusual for local officials to seek exemption from gun bans, which are routinely imposed before elections, but Maranon said this was the first time he could recall a president applying. Speaking before an anti-crime group on Saturday, Aquino said the government was studying whether the problem was lack of gun control laws or just poor enforcement.