MANILA, Philippines --- As the senseless death of seven-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella from a stray bullet sparked public outrage, senators yesterday backed calls for a stronger regulation of firearms in the country.
The public outrage escalated yesterday after a man ran amuck in Kawit, Cavite, gunning down at least five persons, including two children, wounding at least 10 others, before being shot dead by responding police officers.
The amok, identified as Ronald Bae, and his five victims died at the Kalayaan Hospital. The policemen shot Bae when he refused to surrender during the incident.
Bae started shooting his neighbors at 9:30 a.m. yesterday, said Senior Supt. Alexander D.G. Rafael, officer-in-charge (OIC) of Cavite Police Provincial Office (PPO).
Supt. Romeo B. Desiderio, PPO information officer, identified four of the fatalities as Alberto Fernandez, 55; Mikaela Andrea, 7; Boyet Toledo; and Irene Funelas, 38; all neighbors of Bae. The name of the fifth fatality was not immediately known.
Among the injured were Mikaela Andrea's two siblings namely Daisy, 3; and Rachel. Daisy was reportedly a goddaughter of Bae.
Desiderio said they remained clueless as to why Bae ran amuck.
Sources, however, said Bae appeared to be high on drugs during the incident. A report said suspected shabu sachet was recovered from Bae's body.
Bae was also seen drinking in the area prior to the attack.
Chief Inspector Joel Saliba, Kawit Municipal Police Station OIC, said Bae, who hailed from Tabon I, was a candidate for barangay chairman who lost in the last election.
Saliba was among those who responded to the scene.
Cavite Governor Juanito Victor Remulla said two of the victims, aged 3 and 6, were declared dead on arrival at the Divine Grace Hospital.
A DzBB report said Remulla has offered a P100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the caretaker of the house, identified only as John Paul, where the suspect stayed after the shooting spree.
Remulla assured the families of the victims that the provincial government will pay their hospital and funeral expenses.
During the radio interview, Remulla also said he is looking into complaints that the local police had already received complaints about Bae firing his gun as early as Wednesday but did not act on them.
"January 2 pa lang, may complaint na sa pulis nagpapaputok na (pero) walang nag-aksyon ng pulis," he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Loren Legarda said the death of Nicole could have been averted if the government has stringent policies against loose weapons.
Nicole was a victim of indiscriminate firing of a handgun during the New Year's Eve revelry in Caloocan City.
"I express my deepest condolences to the family of Stephanie Nicole, a very young girl who was a victim of irresponsible gun firing," Legarda said.
"This tragic incident may not have happened if the use of firearms in the country were more strictly regulated, ensuring that there are no loose firearms," she stressed.
Based on initial reports by the Philippine National Police (PNP), Legarda noted that Nicole was only one of 40 people hit by stray bullets during the New Year.
"Our military and police officers have a greater responsibility of ensuring that they use firearms only in the line of duty," she said.
"Licensed gun owners should be responsible in using their guns solely for self-protection. These weapons should be strictly used only for peace and order and keep our people safe from crime. They should never be used for reckless merry-making," Legarda said.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan II, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Order, said he is finalizing a bill that would give teeth to existing firearms regulation law.
"We are only waiting for additional information from the Philippine National Police (PNP)," Honasan said in a phone interview.
"We will conduct the public hearing simultaneously with the proposals for a total ban on firecrackers and fireworks regulations, because of this indiscriminate firing," Honasan said.
"We are preparing a firearms regulation law that is more current and responsive version," he added.
Honasan said this would be consolidated with bills proposed by other senators, including that of Sen. Franklin Drilon who prepared Senate Bill No. 129 or the Firearms Regulation Act of 2010.
He said the measure on firearms regulation was overtaken by the priority agenda of the Senate which included the passage of priority bills such as the Sin Tax Reform Bill, the national budget, amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) and the Reproductive health bill last year.
"Natabunan ito ng priority issues, but by Jan. 21, we plan to conduct a hearing on this issue," Honasan said.
The Senate is expected to resume sessions on Jan. 21 after a long Christmas holiday.
Meanwhile, Malacanang said yesterday President Aquino's keen interest in target shooting will not be an impediment for a possible gun ban or stricter gun control in the country.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President is also a smoker but has pushed for the sin tax reform bill, which has been signed into law in December last year.
Some had speculated that a gun ban may not be favorable to the Chief Executive because of the fact that he is a gun enthusiast.
"I think that is an unwarranted assumption," Valte said in a press briefing yesterday.
She said the proposal to have a gun ban during holidays as well as the implementation for a stricter gun control would still have to be discussed with the President.
Former chairman of the Victims Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) Dante Jimenez had called for a total gun ban during the holidays following the death of Stephanie.
A four-year-old boy was also killed by a stray bullet on New Year's Eve in Mandaluyong City while watching a fireworks display outside his home while at least 20 others were injured because of indiscriminate firing in various areas of the country in welcoming the New Year. (With a report from Madel Sabater-Namit)