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Is a confidential agent liable for possession of firearms?

In one of the gathering of which I was invited a friend told me that he was enlisted by the AFP Military Intelligence Group as part of their confidential agents and he proudly displayed his firearm which was issued a Mission Order.

Is a Mission Order (MO) or Memorandum Receipt (MR) or ID as confidential agent suffice as equivalent to license to possess a firearm and to carry them outside of the residence?

This was squarely discussed by the Supreme Court in the case of CEDRIC SAYCO y VILLANUEVA, petitioner, vs. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondent G.R. No. 159703, March 3, 2008.

This is a case decided before the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Bais City where the accused was charged for illegal possession of firearms. P03 Mariano Labe testified that on January 17, 2002 on or about 3:35 in the afternoon, they were at the Police Station. They received a telephone call from a concerned citizen from Tavera Street, Bais City, informing them that one unidentified person was inside Abueva’s Repair Shop located at Tavera Street, tucking a handgun on his waist. They immediately went to the place and saw one unidentified person tucking a handgun on his waist. They approached the unidentified person and asked him if he had a license to possess said firearm, but the answer was in the negative. They immediately arrest him and confiscated Caliber 9MM marked “SIGSAUER P299” with 14 live ammunitions with Serial No. AE 25171. The arrested Zedric Sayco y Villanueva, a resident of Binalbagan, Negros Occidental.

The accused did not deny the accusation. He insisted that he had the requisite permits. Specifically, he had the memorandum receipt and mission order together with memorandum identifying the accused as their agent coming from a commanding officer of the Philippine Army and identifying said firearm as a property of the government of which the accused shall be responsible and accountable thereof. It also carried instructions and identifying him as the agent for a conduct of surveillance. 

The RTC and MTCC gave no significance to the documents. The MTCC held that the documents did not constitute the license required by law. The RTC added that, as held in Pastrano v. Court of Appeals and Belga v. Buban, said documents cannot take the place of the requisite license. The Court of Appeals wholly concurred with both courts.

The accused raised the matter before the Supreme Court. He insisted that he is a confidential agent of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). In this capacity, he received the firearm and ammunitions. Because these are government property duly licensed to the Intelligence Security Group (ISG) of the AFP, these could not be licensed under his name. Instead, he obtained a Memorandum Receipt and a Mission Order. The petitioner further argued that he merely acted in good faith. It would be a grave injustice if he were to be punished for the deficiency of said documents.

The Supreme Court through the Solicitor General pointed out that good faith is not a valid defense in the crime of illegal possession of firearms. 

The corpus delicti in the crime of illegal possession of firearms is the accused’s lack of license or permit to possess or carry the firearm, as possession itself is not prohibited by law.

The High Court in ruling the same cited the comments of the Solicitor General that it is a settled jurisprudence that a memorandum receipt and mission order cannot take the place of a duly issued firearms license, and an accused who relies on said documents cannot invoke good faith as a defense against a prosecution for illegal possession of firearms, as this is a malum prohibitum.

This is relevant today in the light of cases where former members of the military or police are involved. Write us at carillogerry@yahoo.com.ph