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Illegal possession of firearms

First Posted 16:28:00 12/10/2007

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Celino, Sr. Vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 170562, June 29, 2007

The crux of the controversy lies in the interpretation of the underscored proviso. Petitioner, citing Agote v. Lorenzo, People v. Ladjaalam, and other similar cases, contends that the mere filing of an information for gun ban violation against him necessarily bars his prosecution for illegal possession of firearm. The Solicitor General contends otherwise on the basis of Margarejo v. Hon. Escoses and People v. Valdez.

In Agote, this Court affirmed the accused?s conviction for gun ban violation but exonerated him of the illegal possession of firearm charge because it ?cannot but set aside petitioner?s conviction in Criminal Case No. 96-149820 for illegal possession of firearm since another crime was committed at the same time, i.e., violation of COMELEC Resolution No. 2826 or the Gun Ban.? Agote is based on Ladjaalam where this Court held: 170 A simple reading [of RA 8294] shows that if an unlicensed firearm is used in the commission of any crime, there can be no separate offense of simple illegal possession of firearms. Hence, if the ?other crime? is murder or homicide, illegal possession of firearms becomes merely an aggravating circumstance, not a separate offense. Since direct assault with multiple attempted homicide was committed in this case, appellant can no longer be held liable for illegal possession of firearms.

Moreover, penal laws are construed liberally in favor of the accused. In this case, the plain meaning of RA 8294's simple language is most favorable to herein appellant. Verily, no other interpretation is justified, for the language of the new law demonstrates the legislative intent to favor the accused.

Accordingly, appellant cannot be convicted of two separate offenses of illegal possession of firearms and direct assault with attempted homicide.

The law is clear: the accused can be convicted of simple illegal possession of firearms, provided that ?no other crime was committed by the person arrested.? If the intention of the law in the second paragraph were to refer only to homicide and murder, it should have expressly said so, as it did in the third paragraph. Verily, where the law does not distinguish, neither should we.

The law is indeed clear. The accused can be convicted of illegal possession of firearms, provided no other crime was committed by the person arrested. The word ?committed? taken in its ordinary sense, and in light of the Constitutional presumption of innocence, necessarily implies a prior determination of guilt by final conviction resulting from successful prosecution or voluntary admission.

Petitioner?s reliance on Agote, Ladjaalam, Evangelista, Garcia, Pangilinan, Almeida, and Bernal is, therefore, misplaced. In each one of these cases, the accused were exonerated of illegal possession of firearms because of their commission, as shown by their conviction, of some other crime. In the present case, however, petitioner has only been accused of committing a violation of the COMELEC gun ban. As accusation is not synonymous with guilt, there is yet no showing that petitioner did in fact commit the other crime charged. Consequently, the proviso does not yet apply.

More applicable is Margarejo where, as stated earlier, this Court affirmed the denial of a motion to quash an information for illegal possession of firearm on the ground that ?the other offense charged [i.e., violation of gun ban is not one of those enumerated under R.A. 8294.? in consonance with the earlier pronouncement in Valdez that ?all pending cases involving illegal possession of firearm should continue to be prosecuted and tried if no other crimes expressly indicated in Republic Act No. 8294 are involved.?

In sum, when the other offense involved is one of those enumerated under R.A. 8294, any information for illegal possession of firearm should be quashed because the illegal possession of firearm would have to be tried together with such other offense, either considered as an aggravating circumstance in murder or homicide, or absorbed as an element of rebellion, insurrection, sedition or attempted coup d?etat. Conversely, when the other offense involved is not one of those enumerated under R.A. 8294, then the separate case for illegal possession of firearm should continue to be prosecuted.


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