By Sammy F. Martin
MANILA, Jan. 8 (PNA) — The move to impose stiffer penalties for illegal discharge of firearms and indiscriminate firing which result to injuries and even deaths during the Christmas and New Year’s revelries is gaining support from more members of the House of Representatives.
Among the latest to join the move, initiated by House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., is Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian who said there is a need to amend the provision in the Revised Penal Code which penalizes offenders with a mere PhP200 fine or imprisonment of one day to one month if they are convicted by a court.
Gatchalian pointed out that the new firearms law, known as Republic Act No. 10591, does not contain any provision on indiscriminate firing of firearms.
“R.A. 10591 speaks of the types and classes of firearms, who may possess them, how many firearms may each person be entitled to register, requirements for registration of the firearm, its conditions for renewal and revocation, the necessary permit to transport or carry the same outside one’s residence. It is however silent on penalties for gun owners guilty of indiscriminate firing,” Gatchalian said.
He expressed alarm over the rising number of stray bullet incidents, with the highest posted during the last two weeks of 2014. A total of 62 incidents of indiscriminate firing were recorded during the said period, resulting to 44 injuries and the death of an 11-year-old girl from Bangued, Abra.
Gatchalian said House Bill No. 6819, which seeks to impose stiffer penalties for willful or indiscriminate discharge of firearms by amending the Revised Penal Code, was filed by Belmonte in 2013.
The measure calls for stricter penalties on the crime of illegal discharge of firearms since stray bullets have injured and killed several innocent bystanders during the past New Year revelries.
Under HB 6819, any person who shall willfully and indiscriminately discharge any firearm in any public place where there is any person or property to be endangered shall suffer the penalty of prision correcional in its maximum period unless another crime of higher penalty is committed, like homicide or murder which is punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment.
HB 6819 is stricter on members of law enforcement agencies such as the police and the military since indiscriminate firings committed by these uniformed personnel carry a heavier penalty of reclusion temporal in its maximum period.
The measure is currently pending with the House committee on public order and security.
Gatchalian also filed this week a resolution calling for an inquiry on the state of the ballistics database of the Philippine National Police-Crime Laboratory Service as this will greatly help in going after perpetrators of indiscriminate firing and other gun-related crimes.
By filing House Resolution 1791, the senior lawmaker wants the committee on public order and safety to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the current state of the PNP-Crime Laboratory’s ballistics database and firearms tracking capability as this is the necessary investigative tool that will identify and arrest irresponsible trigger-happy gun owners.
“It’s high time for the PNP to prioritize the ballistics database of the 1.7-million registered firearms by procuring the sufficient number of Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS) machines and training technicians who will operate these machines,” Gatchalian emphasized.
According to the Valenzuela solon, the Crime Laboratory’s ballistics and firearms recognition division has already bought the IBIS machine, which uses state-of-the-art 3D imaging technology to capture, store, and rapidly compare huge numbers of digital ballistic images and thus, dramatically shorten the time to find a match between two or more pieces of evidence.
The NPC lawmaker, however, deplored that the Crime Laboratory only has two IBIS machines, making it virtually impossible for the PNP to make a database of the roughly 1.7-million registered firearms in the whole country.
Gatchalian learned that the Crime Laboratory’s IBIS is currently not operational since it has not been upgraded after its purchase in 2011. A systems upgrade in the IBIS technology costs around PhP13 million, according to PNP insiders.
“The PNP should upgrade their database technology and firearms tracking technology. Every gun in the country should be accounted for and the unique features of each gun should be kept in the database as this is part and parcel of the campaign against criminal elements” Gatchalian said. (PNA)