THE PHILIPPINE National Police (PNP) on Thursday claimed to have foiled a plot to assassinate President Rodrigo Duterte, after busting a syndicate that allegedly smuggled high-powered firearms through balikbayan boxes from the United States.
PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa presented before the press in Camp Crame Wilford Palma, a member of the alleged gun smuggling syndicate caught by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
De la Rosa said the US Department of Homeland Security had alerted the Bureau of Customs on the alleged smugglers. Customs passed on the information to the PNP, he said.
Palma said his superior’s “No. 1 client” ordered 100 upper receiving parts, 40 barrels and 30 bolt assemblies that could make 100 M-16 rifles.
“My boss said our No. 1 customer plans to order lower-end gun parts and use them to assassinate President Duterte,” Palma said during the new conference.
Palma admitted he would not have reported the assassination plot to the police if they were not arrested.
De la Rosa clarified that the buyer of the gun parts was not suspected of being part of the plot to assassinate the President, but was only asked to purchase the firearms.
The CIDG director, Chief Supt. Roel Obusan, said they would check on Palma’s claims, but might consider making him a witness.
Palma’s boss is Bryan Ta-ala, who is confined in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Bacolod City due to hypertension.
The CIDG confiscated from Ta-ala and Palma P4.5-million worth of smuggled gun parts from the US at Villa Cristina Subdivision in Brgy. Tangub, Bacolod City on August 6.
Seized by the police from the suspects was a balikbayan box containing the following: Trigger Housing Group, 35 pieces (pcs.); Buffer Spring Lock, 15 pcs.; barrels, 10 pcs.; rail without barrel, 1 pc.; rail and barrel with one suppressor, one unit; black Butt Assembly, 10 pcs.; gray Butt Assembly, 5 pcs.; Buffer Spring Guide, 15 pcs.; Quick Detach Scope Mount, 5 pcs.; Upper Receiver (M4 carbine), 60 pcs.; and Beverage Entry Tool, 2 pcs.
It was unclear if these gun parts would be used in the supposed assassination plot.
Obusan said the suspects used fictitious names and false documents in claiming the shipments.
The CIDG director said the items were then sold to gun enthusiasts across the country through a website and online community called Pinoy Pistol Forum. The gun parts were shipped to customers using local courier services.
Palma said previous deliveries from the US were sent through Atlas Shippers International Inc. It delivered 104 major component parts for 5.56-caliber rifles, 298 minor component parts, accessories and bullet proof vests, he said.
These were delivered on different occasions to 129 personalities and one company across the country, he added.
Palma said that in the two years of their operations, they received 10 balikbayan boxes of gun parts from the US.
A case was filed against Ta-ala and Palma for violation of Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.
Palma underwent inquest proceedings before the State Prosecutor’s Office at the Department of Justice in Manila on August 8.
At least 23 people who reportedly transacted with Ta-ala and Palma, including nine who voluntarily surrendered or appeared before the Major Crimes Investigation Unit of the CIDG, have expressed willingness to cooperate with the investigation, the PNP said.
The nine who voluntarily surrendered or appeared before the CIDG were Ronald Santos, Ryan Douglas, Charlie Saavedra, Escalante Joe Alian, Edwin Zambas, Maribel Bautista, Larry Paet, Santiago Macariola Inoferio Jr. and Roderick Oliveros.
Fifteen gun parts composed of seven upper receivers, a butt, a handgrip, two magazine assemblies, and four bolt assemblies were surrendered to the CIDG.
Inoferio said he surrendered the barrel he had bought from Ta-ala upon learning from the CIDG that the gun part was smuggled.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said President Duterte was unfazed by the alleged assassination plot.
Abella said such threats were “not new” to the President. “The President seems to be pretty much untouched by all these threats. Not worried. Concerned but not worried,” Abella said a press conference.
“He eats threats for breakfast. Meaning to say, it is not something new to him. He said it again and again that he puts his honor, his life, his presidency on the line. It is a very heroic stand,” he added.
Despite the threat, Duterte will not limit his provincial trips, Abella said.
“He really understands that there is a call to war on several fronts already: war on drugs, war on terrorism, and war on crime. He is engaged in several fronts and he is really aware that his life is constantly under threat,” he said.
Duterte earlier claimed that high-profile drug lords have raised as much as P1 billion to have him killed, along with the police chief, de la Rosa, and other officials.