Witnesses Urged To Come Out To Identify The Perpetrators
Manila: The government is hunting down the gun owner who indiscriminately fired his weapon during the New Year revelry that led to the death of seven-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella, and at the same time, warning those who indiscriminately fire their guns that police authorities are prepared to track them down.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Thursday the Philippine National Police (PNP) is hunting down the perpetrator who killed Ella with a stray bullet on New Year's Eve.
"This is clearly a direct violation of what the President wanted: to have a safe New Year celebration and so, the PNP has been tasked to ensure and to locate the identity of that reckless individual who fired the shot that caused the death of Nicole," Lacierda said.
He said there were bullet shells recovered in the area and the PNP is in the process of identifying the gun owner that killed the seven-year-old girl.
The bullet that killed Ella was fired some 50 meters away from her, prompting the PNP to order for a crackdown on loose firearms within 50 to 100 meter radius from her location in Caloocan City.
PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima said he had already directed all police commanders in areas where stray bullet injuries and fatalities occur to step up house visitation, noting the PNP has the right to do so.
"I assure the family of Stephanie Nicole Ella that we will do our best in the investigation and follow up operations to bring justice to the victims," said Pursima.
The death of "Lalai" was so sudden no one was prepared for it - even the funeral parlor did not have a casket to keep her remains.
The young girl's body had to wait for hours as the funeral home rushed a casket that would fit her.
Meanwhile, police authorities in Caloocan invited for questioning late yesterday a certain Juan Agus of Purok 2, Barangay 185, Malaria, Caloocan City.
At least four persons were invited for questioning, but only Agus was initially identified.
While Agus is not considered a suspect in the Ella case, he was invited by authorities because he is known in the neighborhood to own guns.
But Agus denied firing a firearm on New Year's Eve. He said he and three others were having a drinking spree on New Year's Eve, and admitted lending his caliber .45 pistol to someone he could not identify.
According to a GMA news report, Agus, known as "Mang Johnny" in the area, is a reserve officer of the Philippine Army and an intelligence agent of the Presidential Security Group.
Police said Agus could be liable for illegal discharge of firearm.
For his part, Caloocan City Mayor Enrico Echiverri said he is ready to give a reward amounting to P200,000 to those who can pinpoint the man who fired a shot that killed Ella, who was watching a fireworks display near their house during the New Year's revelry in Caloocan, to speed up the identification of the gun wielder.
"Kung ang pagbibigay ng reward ang makatutulong sa atin para mabigyan ng katarungan si Stephanie Nicole ay gagawin natin dahil ayaw nating maulit pa ang ganitong klaseng pangyayari," Echiverri said.
He said they will not stop until the identity of the man who fired a shot that killed Stephanie Nicole will be known.
Vice President Jejomar C. Binay yesterday called for a stricter enforcement of gun laws in the wake of the death of seven-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella.
Binay cited the urgency of tightening the gun laws, as he brought up the challenge to the PNP and law enforcement agencies.
"The law must be enforced to the letter. We have enough laws to penalize but the problem has always been in the enforcement of the laws, especially those on loose firearms. That is the challenge for the PNP and other law enforcement agencies," Binay said.
For claiming the life of an innocent child, the Vice President stressed that the PNP should exert all efforts to bring those responsible to justice.
"This incident should not be allowed to become just another statistic," he said, echoing President Benigno Aquino III's sentiment that Ella's death was senseless.
Until now, the suspect remains unknown. Police, as of press time, are still trying to determine clues that could help identify the owner of the gun that claimed the life of the hapless victim.
Ella, nicknamed "Lalai," of San Lorenzo Ruiz Street, Barangay 185, Malaria, died Wednesday, despite attempts by doctors at the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City to save her life, two days after she was hit by a stray bullet in the head.
Ella suffered at least eight cardiac arrests until she died as the attending physicians tried to remove the bullet that was embedded in her head.
Lacierda said the government will also hunt down other gun owners who have indiscriminately fired their guns during the New Year revelry that victimized innocent civilians.
"Be assured of this government's resolve to go after all those who fired indiscriminately their guns during the last New Year," he said.
The Palace official urged witnesses to come out and report those who have indiscriminately fired their guns during the New Year, assuring that the government will "take action" on those reports, noting that the Aquino government will not be hesitant to put those perpetrators in jail.
At the Senate, Senator Manuel "Lito" Lapid urged Congress to pass his bill seeking to impose a higher penalty against a person who fires his firearm and whose bullet or bullets harm or kill a person.
Lapid made the call following the death last Wednesday of Ella.
The actor-turned-senator filed his measure, Senate Bill 3114 on celebratory gunfire, on January 31, 2012.
The current law imposes a jail term of from six months and one day to six years while the Lapid bill sought to increase this from 12 years and one day to a maximum of 20 years.
"Noong isang taon pa ako nanawagan na pataasin ang parusa dun sa mga nagpapaputok ng baril sa bagong taon dahil napag-alaman ko na napaka baba pala ng parusa sa mga ito,'' he said. (I made the call since early last year for the passage of the measure on indiscriminate firing of guns during New Year when I learned that the penalty is very light.)
He cited a flaw on Section 254 of the Revised Penal Code that exacts only a penalty of six months in jail.
"Ang pangit pa, kailangan ay itutok ang baril sa tao bago parusahan sa kasalukuyan batas. Lalabas, hindi pa saklaw ng kasalukuyang batas itong pagpapautok ng baril sa ere at maaring patawan pa ng parusang mas mababa," he said. (What is objectionable is that the present law mandates that the gun has to be aimed at a person to be penalized by the law. what appears now is that the law does not cover the firing of guns into the air and the violator can still be given a light sentence.)
Police are still zeroing in on at least three barangays (villages) in Caloocan to identify those who fired guns that hit Ella, who died two days after the incident during New Year's Eve.
Dr. Emmanuel Bueno, of the East Avenue Medical Center, declared the girl dead at 2:26 p.m. on Wednesday.
Senior Superintendent Rimas Calixto, Caloocan Police chief, said that "Oplan Galugad" was intensified in at least three villages in the Bukid Area, hoping to get a lead that would help authorities facilitate and identify those who fired guns during the revelry that hit the girl.
Calixto said the focus of their search are Barangays 180, 185, and 186 - the nearest area where Ella was hit by the bullet from an "irresponsible" gun holder who disregard the police directive prohibiting anyone from firing guns during the New Year celebration.
Ella's father, Jay, said his daughter's dream was to become rich someday hoping to help her family.
Ella was an honor student, he said. She was "makulit pero matalino."
"Sana sa susunod na taon, wala nang Nicole na tatamaan, wala nang kagaya ni Nicole na batang paslit na wala naman kaalam-alam eh, bigla nalang tatamaan ng bala, nasira ang buhay dahil lamang sa kalokohan ng ilan," Jay said in an interview.
"In grief, her grandmother asked her, "Apo, huwag mo sanang patulugin ang nakabaril sa iyo."
When asked what happened to her sister, younger brother Ken-Ken, 5, became silent and suddenly cried."
Earlier, Echiverri and his son Councilor Ricojudge Echiverri vowed to shoulder the victim's hospital bills and burial expenses.
The Caloocan mayor also appealed to the police to inspect all the houses near the crime scene to determine who among the house occupants had fired their guns on New Year's Eve. (Anna Liza Villas-Alavaren, Aaron B. Recuenco, Madel Sabater-Namit, Mario B. Casayuran, and Ed Mahilum)--Courtesy of Manila Bulletin