How and when liability for illegal possession of firearms attaches?

In dissecting how and when liability for illegal possession of firearms attaches, the following disquisitions in People v. De Gracia[22] are instructive:

The rule is that ownership is not an essential element of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. What the law requires is merely possession which includes not only actual physical possession but also constructive possession or the subjection of the thing to one’s control and management. This has to be so if the manifest intent of the law is to be effective. The same evils, the same perils to public security, which the law penalizes exist whether the unlicensed holder of a prohibited weapon be its owner or a borrower. To accomplish the object of this law the proprietary concept of the possession can have no bearing whatsoever.

But is the mere fact of physical or constructive possession sufficient to convict a person for unlawful possession of firearms or must there be an intent to possess to constitute a violation of the law? This query assumes significance since the offense of illegal possession of firearms is a malum prohibitum punished by a special law, in which case good faith and absence of criminal intent are not valid defenses.

When the crime is punished by a special law, as a rule, intent to commit the crime is not necessary. It is sufficient that the offender has the intent to perpetrate the act prohibited by the special law. Intent to commit the crime and intent to perpetrate the act must be distinguished. A person may not have consciously intended to commit a crime; but he did intend to commit an act, and that act is, by the very nature of things, the crime itself. In the first (intent to commit the crime), there must be criminal intent; in the second (intent to perpetrate the act) it is enough that the prohibited act is done freely and consciously.

In the present case, a distinction should be made between criminal intent and intent to possess. While mere possession, without criminal intent, is sufficient to convict a person for illegal possession of a firearm, it must still be shown that there was animus possidendi or an intent to possess on the part of the accused. Such intent to possess is, however, without regard to any other criminal or felonious intent which the accused may have harbored in possessing the firearm. Criminal intent here refers to the intention of the accused to commit an offense with the use of an unlicensed firearm. This is not important in convicting a person under Presidential Decree No. 1866. Hence, in order that one may be found guilty of a violation of the decree, it is sufficient that the accused had no authority or license to possess a firearm, and that he intended to possess the same, even if such possession was made in good faith and without criminal intent.

Concomitantly, a temporary, incidental, casual, or harmless possession or control of a firearm cannot be considered a violation of a statute prohibiting the possession of this kind of weapon, such as Presidential Decree No. 1866. Thus, although there is physical or constructive possession, for as long as the animus possidendi is absent, there is no offense committed.[23]

Certainly, illegal possession of firearms, or, in this case, part of a firearm, is committed when the holder thereof:

(1) possesses a firearm or a part thereof

(2) lacks the authority or license to possess the firearm.[24]

We find that petitioner was neither in physical nor constructive possession of the subject receivers. The testimony of SPO2 Nava clearly bared that he only saw Valerio on top of the house when the receivers were thrown. None of the witnesses saw petitioner holding the receivers, before or during their disposal.

At the very least, petitioner’s possession of the receivers was merely incidental because Valerio, the one in actual physical possession, was seen at the rooftop of petitioner’s house. Absent any evidence pointing to petitioner’s participation, knowledge or consent in Valerio’s actions, she cannot be held liable for illegal possession of the receivers.

Petitioner’s apparent liability for illegal possession of part of a firearm can only proceed from the assumption that one of the thrown receivers matches the gun seen tucked in the waistband of her shorts earlier that night. Unfortunately, the prosecution failed to convert such assumption into concrete evidence.

Mere speculations and probabilities cannot substitute for proof required to establish the guilt of an accused beyond reasonable doubt. The rule is the same whether the offenses are punishable under the Revised Penal Code, which are mala in se, or in crimes, which are malum prohibitum by virtue of special law.[25] The quantum of proof required by law was not adequately met in this case in so far as petitioner is concerned.

The gun allegedly seen tucked in petitioner’s waistband was not identified with sufficient particularity; as such, it is impossible to match the same with any of the seized receivers. Moreover, SPO1 Tan categorically stated that he saw Valerio holding two guns when he and the rest of the PISOG arrived in petitioner’s house. It is not unlikely then that the receivers later on discarded were components of the two (2) pistols seen with Valerio.

These findings also debunk the allegation in the information that petitioner conspired with Valerio in committing illegal possession of part of a firearm. There is no evidence indubitably proving that petitioner participated in the decision to commit the criminal act committed by Valerio.

Hence, this Court is constrained to acquit petitioner on the ground of reasonable doubt. The constitutional presumption of innocence in her favor was not adequately overcome by the evidence adduced by the prosecution.

The CA correctly convicted Valerio with illegal possession of part of a firearm.

In illegal possession of a firearm, two (2) things must be shown to exist: (a) the existence of the subject firearm; and (b) the fact that the accused who possessed the same does not have the corresponding license for it.[26]

By analogy then, a successful conviction for illegal possession of part of a firearm must yield these requisites:

(a) the existence of the part of the firearm; and

(b) the accused who possessed the same does not have the license for the firearm to which the seized part/component corresponds.

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About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
This entry was posted in Illegal Possesion of Firearm, Illegal Possesion of Firearms and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How and when liability for illegal possession of firearms attaches?

  1. Giovs says:

    thank you..very informative and easy to understand.

  2. girly gabule says:

    how about if the accused hide the gun but in crime scene found the gun case and bullet case is it alrealdy an evidence for the accusedd to be conviceted for simple illegal possession.of firearms?

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