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Missing AK-47s ended up in NPA hands, says PNP; police officials to be charged

More than a thousand high-powered AK-47 and Armalite rifles have ended up in the hands of the communist New People's Army—and several ranking officers of the Philippine National Police could be hauled up on charges because of it, a PNP official announced Thursday.

In an interview, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) Director Benjamin Magalong said that the military had turned over 44 AK-47s it had recovered after a series of encounters with the NPA in the Caraga Region and western Mindanao.

At least five of the firearms were traced as being among the 1,004 AK-47s and Armalite rifles that a security agency owner had claimed was going to go to his personnel. "The rest have severely defaced serial numbers," said Magalong.

PNP officials to be charged

Magalong said at least 19 police officers could be hit with administrative and criminal charges resulting from this.

Of the 19, five are retired and active generals, he added.

He identified them as Directorate for Comptrollership executive officer Chief Supt. Regino Catiis, Central Luzon regional director Chief Supt. Raul Petrasanta, retired Chief Supt. Tomas Rentoy III, and police directors Gil Meneses and Napoleon Estilles, who are both under non-duty status in preparation of their mandatory retirement at age 56.

He noted that Petrasanta, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class 1984, is the top contender to replace PNP Director General Alan Purisima in November next year.

"All the papers regarding to the licensing of those firearms went through their offices. It is incumbent upon them to examine the papers," Magalong said. "They failed to exercise due diligence. If they just did their job well, those firearms would have not ended [up in] the hands of the insurgents."

He noted that Petrasanta and Estilles both headed the PNP's Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO) during the time the rifles were registered, while Meneses headed the Civil Security Group, which is in charge of the FEO.

On the other hand, Rentoy was the head of the Supervisory Office for Security and Investigative Agencies (SOSIA), which oversees security agencies.

Other officials being implicated are also connected to the CSG, FEO, and SOSIA, Magalong noted.

Delivery to the NPA

According to Magalong, a certain Isidro Lozada, owner of a security agency in Caraga, was the "main player" of the operation.

"It was him who had those firearms registered and delivered them to the NPA," he said.

Magalong said that Lozada bought the 1,004 firearms from gun supply firm Twin Pines through his security agency.

After the firearms are licensed, these would be delivered by Lozada to Butuan City, where they would be picked up by the communist rebels, he said.

Magalong said the transactions went on from 2011 to early 2013.

Asked if the implicated officials might have made money from the transactions, Magalong said: "We have no evidence that they earned money out of it."

However, Magalong said, the officials and former officials in question claimed that they did not know there was anything irregular going on when the rifles went through the licensing process.

"They said Twin Pines is actually a very well-established firearms dealer that they trust and they know that all its sales are legitimate," said Magalong.

"In the same manner, Twin Pines said that Mr. Lozada has a good record and they trust him that he will not do something irregular, only to find out that he delivered the guns to NPA and even used the names of other juridical entities without their knowledge aside from his own security agency," he added.

Forced by the NPA?

Magalong said that Lozada, who admitted to have facilitated the registration and delivery of guns, clarified that he was forced to do so by the NPA.

"He told us that he was approached some time in 2010 and that he was threatened by the NPA that they would kill him and his family if he would not cooperate," said Magalong.

Lozada explained that the NPA would give him money for the purchase and licensing expenses of the high-powered firearms.

In the licensing and delivery of guns, Lozada would claim that he needed those firearms for his security guards manning mining firms in eastern Mindanao.

Lozada bought the guns at P52,000 per piece. — Amanda Fernandez/BM, GMA News