Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN
An alleged plot to assassinate President Rodrigo Duterte has been uncovered on a tip from the US Homeland Security that led to the arrest of two gun smugglers and the confiscation of parts for 100 M16 rifles, police authorities said on Thursday.
Philippine National Police Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said in a news conference that the gun parts shipped from the United States and intercepted on Aug. 6 in Bacolod City in central Philippines would be used to assemble weapons for the assassination of Duterte.
The importers, identified as Bryan Ta-ala and Wilford Palma, were arrested during the raid.
They had expressed willingness to cooperate in the police investigation on the alleged plot against the President, Dela Rosa said.
He said Palma, who was presented to reporters, had told investigators that the gun parts were ordered by a “client” who claimed the automatic rifles assembled would be used to kill the President.
He said Ta-ala was being treated in a hospital after the raid.
Seized was a balikbayan box containing the gun parts, valued at 4.5 million pesos (US$96,451) that when assembled would make 100 M16 rifles. A case was filed against the two men for violation of Republic Act No. 10591 (Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act).
Palma underwent the inquest proceedings before the Office of the State Prosecutor at the Department of Justice in Manila on Aug. 8.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that Duterte was well aware of plots to kill him, and was “concerned, but not worried.”
“He eats [death] threats for breakfast. Meaning to say, it’s not something new to him,” Abella told a news briefing, noting that Duterte has repeatedly said that he is prepared to die in his campaign against illegal drugs.
“It’s a very heroic stand … because he really understands that there is a call to war in several fronts already—war on drugs, war on terrorism and war on crime,” he said.
Dela Rosa said the US Homeland Security alerted the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to the shipment. The BOC, in turn, relayed the information to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
He said US authorities became suspicious of the shipment because the same consignees had been sending gun parts to the Philippines in balikbayan boxes for two years.
“You know in the US, if you order many firearms or firearm components, that’s already a questionable procurement, especially now that the US is waging a war against terrorism,” Dela Rosa said.
He said licensed gun stores were also among the suspects’ clients.
The CIDG said the syndicate’s modus operandi was to use fictitious consignees and addresses here when ordering firearms components in the United States, then shipped these to the Philippines through legitimate international cargo forwarders.
The items are then sold to gun enthusiasts and shipped using local courier services.
According to Palma, there were previous deliveries from the United States that were facilitated through Atlas Shippers International Inc.
These involved 104 different major parts for 5.56 cal. rifles; and 298 minor parts for 5.56 rifles, accessories, and bulletproof vests, which were all delivered on different occasions to 129 people and one company across the country.
Records of the Firearms and Explosives Office on those people showed that only 28 are registered firearms holders, 30 with no records, and 12 others cannot be determined because of having the same names but with different middle names.
Dela Rosa said the PNP presented the suspects to the media so that the buyers of the gun parts would know that these were smuggled.
He said the suspects maintained a website for individuals who wanted to order guns online.
Dela Rosa has ordered those whose names appeared as buyers to cooperate with the CIDG or face cancellation of their firearms if they are license holders.
The CIDG said at least 23 witnesses who had previous transactions with the suspects, including nine who voluntarily went to the CIDG’s Major Crimes Investigation Unit, had agreed to give testimonies.
The nine witnesses were identified as Ronald Santos y Galliguez, Ryan Douglas y Rios, Charlie Saavedra, Escalante Joe Alian, Edwin Zambas y Angeles, Maribel Bautista, Larry Paet, Santiago Macariola Inoferio Jr. and Roderick Oliveros.
In Bacolod, Ta-ala’s lawyer, Leon Moya, called the accusation “a big lie.” He said his client, described as a veterinarian, was an “avid” fan and election campaigner of Duterte.
He said he would file countercharges against agents who arrested Ta-ala in Villa Cristina Subdivision in Barangay Tangub. Ta-ala was arrested with Palma but was not brought to Manila because he was being treated for hypertension.
“Why buy gun parts in the United States when you can buy it anywhere in the Philippines. All you just need is money,” he added.
Moya dismissed the allegations against Ta-ala as a drama of the CIDG, whom he claimed “wanted only to magnify everything.”
“You don’t have to go around the world talking that you wanted to kill somebody,” he said.
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