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12 cops face jail over AK-47 deal

INDICTED PNP Chief Supt. Raul Petrasanta (right) has been indicted on multiple graft charges for his alleged role in the anomalous sale of AK-47 assault rifles to leftist rebels. At left,members of the Special Weapons and Tactics team try their AK-47 rifles during amock assault. INQUIRER PHOTO

INDICTED PNP Chief Supt. Raul Petrasanta (right) has been indicted on multiple graft charges for his alleged role in the anomalous sale of AK-47 assault rifles to leftist rebels. At left,members of the Special Weapons and Tactics team try their AK-47 rifles during amock assault. INQUIRER PHOTO

ONCE touted as the country’s next top cop, sacked Chief Supt. Raul Petrasanta, a close friend of President Aquino, may just end up behind bars.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Wednesday approved the indictment of Petrasanta, six former police officials, five active police officials and three others in the Sandiganbayan for multiple counts of graft in connection with the missing AK-47 assault rifles, which allegedly ended up in the hands of communist rebels in Mindanao.

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A total of 1,004 Russian-made AK-47 assault weapons worth P52 million were reportedly sold to the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels from 2011 to 2013 with the unwitting assistance of several senior Philippine National Police officials, according to the Ombudsman.

Besides Petrasanta, also ordered charged were retired PNP Directors Gil Meneses and Napoleon Estilles, former Chief Superintendents Tomas Rentoy III and Regino Catiis, and former Senior Superintendents Eduardo Acierto and Allan Parreño.

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Likewise indicted were Supt. Nelson Bautista, Chief Inspectors Ricardo Zapata Jr. and Ricky Sumalde, Senior Police Officers 1 Eric Tan and Randy de Sesto, and civilian employees Nora Pirote and Sol Bargan.

The Ombudsman also included as private respondent in the case, Isidro Lozada, the registered owner of Caraga Security Agency.

In June, the antigraft body ordered the dismissal from the government service of Petrasanta, then PNP Director General Alan Purisima and several other police officers for awarding a P100-million service contract to a startup courier company for the delivery of gun licenses.

Petrasanta, a former official of the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO), and Central Luzon police director, was once touted to be the next PNP chief and was even endorsed to the President by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.

A member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1984, Petrasanta was widely perceived to be the President’s choice to succeed Purisima, also a close associate of Mr. Aquino, until both of them were axed from the PNP by the Ombudsman.

‘Undue injury’

In a 39-page order, Ombudsman Morales said Petrasanta et al. should be held liable for several counts of violation of Sections 3(e) and 3(j) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

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Under Section 3(e) of RA 3019, it is unlawful for government employees to cause “any undue injury to any party or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”

Section 3(j), on the other hand, bars government personnel from “knowingly approving or granting any license, permit, privilege or benefit in favor of any person not qualified for or not legally entitled to such license, permit, privilege or advantage… .”

“The public respondents failed to act in accordance with their respective duties in processing the questioned firearms license applications,” Morales said.

“[T]heir acts and/or omissions demonstrate that they are guilty of gross inexcusable negligence and evident bad faith,” the Ombudsman stressed.

For lack of probable cause, the Ombudsman cleared Chief Insp. Rodrigo Benedicto Sarmiento, PNP civilian employee Enrique de la Cruz, and Twin Pines Inc. personnel Servando Topacio, Marie Ann Topacio, Alexandria Topacio, Hagen Alexander Topacio, Thelma Castillejos, Sherry Lyn Fetalino and Lourdes Logronio.

‘Falsified applications’

The Ombudsman said the erring PNP officials were “found to have conspired in facilitating, processing and approving the applications” for the firearm licenses issued to Caraga, Isla Security Agency, Claver Mineral Development Corp. and JTC Mineral Mining Corp.

Morales said the gun permits were released to the private companies “despite incomplete or falsified applications and supporting documents.”

“Most of the firearms were also released immediately even when some of the requests for their withdrawal from storage were not signed by the requester,” the Ombudsman said.

Morales said Petrasanta, who succeeded Estilles as chief of the FEO, issued gun permits to Lozada’s company, which was then conducting business with an expired license to operate.

The antigraft body also said Caraga was given firearms permits “without verifying the number of firearms already issued to it.”

It said Meneses issued “handwritten notations to expedite the processing” of Caraga’s gun licenses.

Isla, on the other hand, was given gun permits without the PNP officials checking its capacity to acquire high-powered firearms.

The Ombudsman said Petrasanta and his fellow respondents made “recommendations for approval of the firearm licenses without proper verification and checking.”

CIDG probe

In December 2013, the President told the Inquirer that a cache of high-powered firearms had gone missing after the PNP approved their permits.

This prompted the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) to conduct an investigation into the alleged disappearance of the automatic rifles.

This was the first time that policemen were indicted criminally despite longstanding reports that law enforcement units have been selling weapons and ammunition to communist and Moro rebels in the troubled southern Philippines.

The CIDG established that Lozada had imported AK-47s using the permit issued to Caraga and had these automatic rifles registered with the FEO through Twin Pines, a licensed gun importer.

Lozada then sold the assault rifles to the NPA rebels in Mindanao for P52,000 each over the two-year period.

PNP reaction

At a press conference Wednesday in Camp Crame, a police spokesperson said the PNP would comply with any order of the Ombudsman in connection with the filing of graft charges against the respondents.

The PNP spokesperson, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor clarified that the respondents had either been dismissed, suspended, or retired.

“We respect the decision of the Ombudsman. It’s part of the legal process of our … democratic country. Once the order is issued, the PNP will comply,” Mayor said.

But Mayor pointed out that the respondents, most of whom are no longer considered “active” in the service, would have to seek “legal remedies” on their own.

Of the respondents, Meneses (formerly with the PNP Civil Service Group), Estilles and Rentoy III (formerly with the FEO) are already retired. The other respondents were ordered administratively suspended last December by the Ombudsman in connection with the case.

Petrasanta, Parreño, Acierto, Bautista and Zapata, along with Purisima, were already ordered dismissed in June by the antigraft body for another graft case involving a P100-million anomalous deal with the courier service WerFast.

Mayor said that since their suspension, they were no longer in active service, and thus have not been receiving any salary. Those who have been dismissed could only receive the commutation of their accrued leaves, said Mayor.

“[But] dismissal and suspension [orders] would result [in] forfeiture of benefits,” Mayor added.

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