Court clears way for trial of 4 arms dealers
THE Court of Appeals has upheld a Justice Department resolution ordering the indictment of four officers of a firearm manufacturing company for the unlawful sale of ammunition that were used in the massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in November 2009 in Maguindanao.
The court’s Special Seventeenth Division denied the company’s appeal to reject the resolution for failure to show that the department erred in finding probable cause to indict the four for violation of the provisions of PD 1866.
‘‘While we are n unison towards the conclusion for the jettison of the petition, an assessment of petitioners supplication before us did not perforce mean that the cart was placed ahead of the horse, so to speak. Neither did we pronounce a premature determination of petitioners culpability, the appellate court ruled.
Facing trial for violation of Section 1 of Presidential Decree 1866, the law governing illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, are Victor Karunungan, Eduardo Santos, Lyn Demartin Justo and Melva Valdez-Libao.
Karunungan is the vice president and chief financial officer of Arms Corporation of the Philippines, while Libao is the compan’s accounting supervisor.
Justo is employed as a bookkeeper of Armscor while Santos acts as its sales representative.
“Far from such knee-jerk reactions, we simply relayed that, as a general rule, if the information is legally efficacious on its face, and there is no showing of manifest error, nor wanton exercise of the faculty conferred upon the public prosecutor, courts should not dismiss it for want of evidence because fact-discovery and evidence presentation may still unfold at the appropriate forum,” the court said.
In opposing the company’s petition, the Justice Department noted that, after a series of raids conducted by the police following the massacre, it was discovered that some of the firearms used by the perpetrators and others that were dug up in Maguindanao belonged to the Philippine National Police.
The discovery prompted then PNP Chief Jesus Versoza to form an investigating team that conducted the accounting of the PNP equipment at certain pieces of real estate in Maguindanao.
Several police operations yielded many pieces of ammunition in Maguindanao which were identified through their lot numbers, which appeared to be that of Armscor.
Investigation further revealed that there were two illegal procurements that involved Armscor and the PNP on august 21, 2008 and April 10, 2009.
Investigation disclosed that it was Police Supt. Bahnarin Kamaong, then group director of the 15th Regional Mobile Group, Police Regional Office of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao-ARMM, who instructed SPO4 Nicasio Ardaniel to procure the 5.56mm ammunition intended for the PRO-ARMM.
Ardaniel coordinated with Santos for the purchase of 500,000 rounds of cartridge ball 5.56mm full metal jacket combat ammunition on Aug. 21, 2008.
On the other hand, the April 10, 2009 transaction covered an equal quantity of ammunition.
The deal was executed by the petitioners and approved its legality without verifying whether the police officials whom they were transacting with had permit to purchase the ammunition.
Eventually, the Firearms and Explosives Division issued a certification on Jan. 15, 2010, which attested that the Office had not issued a permit to purchase ammunition to PRO-ARMM.