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Death from the skies: Stray bullets strike kids through roofs

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(Updated 6:50 p.m.) Many firecracker victims had it coming, detonating mini-bombs despite repeated warnings.  

The victims of celebratory gunfire on New Year's Eve, on the other hand, were completely innocent, with at least two children, one a baby who was fast asleep, in their homes when bullets fell through the ceilings.

Three-month-old Von Alexander Llagas died nearly instantly in their home in Caoayan, Ilocos Sur, while two-year-old Rhauz Angelo Corpuz from San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte died on January 2 after doctors failed to remove the bullet from his head because of his sensitive condition.

Palace cites need for stricter gun regulation

Malacañang on Thursday acknowledged the need for stricter gun regulation in the Philippines after another New Year's celebration marred by indiscriminate firing that injured dozens and killed two children.

"Tanggap po natin yung panukala na kinakailangang higpitan ng pamahalaan yung pag-regulate sa paggamit ng mga armas," Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr. said during a press briefing.

He said this after authorities recorded at least 28 victims of stray bullets during the recent New Year celebrations.

The Palace official said incidents of indiscriminate firing were not that many, even as the Philippine National Police is still focused on the regulation of firearms.

"Ilang beses na rin pong binanggit ng Pangulo ito – tsine-check mismo yung mga firearms owner kung sila ba ay nakapag-renew na ng kanilang mga permit, at sinusuyod po ang lahat ng populasyon na nakalistang mayroong armas," he said, citing government efforts during the 2013 midterm polls.
Kimberly Jane T. Tan /LBG/HS, GMA News
The bullets that entered the refuge of their homes most likely were fired by revelers shooting straight up into the air, probably knowing full well these would need to land somewhere at a deadly velocity.  

If past tragedies are any gauge, it may be impossible to determine who fired the guns and from what location. Last year, despite an extensive forensic investigation, police were not able to pinpoint the origin of the bullet that killed seven-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella as she was merely watching the fireworks from the alley of her home in Caloocan City.

As of Thursday morning, the Philippine National Police said there have been 28 victims of stray bullets.

The provincial government of Ilocos Sur has offered a P250,000 reward for information that will lead to the arrest of the shooter whose stray bullet killed the baby, Governor Ryan Singson said Thursday.
“We cannot tolerate this inhumane act, and we stand firm towards the protection and security of our people be it inside or outside our homes. We are a peace-loving province and this barbaric act does not have a place in us. Let us join hands towards the solution of this case and let peace and order prevail,” Singson said.

Fifteen individuals were arrested due to indiscriminate firing, PNP spokesman Reuben Sindac told GMA News Online in a phone interview. Out of those arrested, four were police officials. One of the policemen was a suspect in a stray bullet case.

“The policemen may possibly [be] charged with criminal and administrative charges,” he said.

Aside from an “improved” campaign strategy, Sindac believes the new Republic Act No. 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms Law, which was signed last year, would provide a remedy to the problem.

He said the law “provides stricter measures” on gun ownership and licensing.

Under the new law, aside from having a license to own firearms, gun owners should be accredited by the police. The law also carries tougher punishment for illegal possession of firearms, with jail time increased to six to 12 years from one to six years.

Similarly, under the new law, gun owners need to renew their licenses every two years instead of three.

Calls for stricter gun control increased early last year after Stephanie Nicole's death.

Sindac reminded citizens to report incidents of indiscriminate firing in their area as this would be significant in identifying the perpetrators, especially if someone was hit by a stray bullet.

“Huwag ipagsawalang bahala ang mga ito. Magbigay-alam sa pulisya. Mahalaga para maisama sa blotter [and] for future investigations,” he said in a television report aired on GMA News TV's “Balitanghali.”

This was echoed by Senior Superintendent Wilben Mayor, spokesman of the PNP chief, in a phone interview with GMA News Online.

“Citizen participation is important. We need to have a witness who can pinpoint who shot the firearm. The evidence we need should be sufficient for conviction and just filing of charges,” he said.

Aside from circumstantial evidence, Mayor said scientific proof is also necessary.

The first step in the investigation is to find the bullet and identify the firearm used. The police will then study the trajectory and estimate a radius where the shot was fired, he explained.

“Circumstantial evidence is not enough. It should be connected with scientific proof and testimonial evidence,” he said. “The investigation takes time really.” — Rouchelle R. Dinglasan/KBK/KG/JDS/HS, GMA News
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