G.R. No. 190779 Atty. Reynante B. Orceo versus Commission on Elections.

 

Promulgated:

 

March 26, 2010

 

 

 

CONCURRING OPINION

 

BRION, J.:

I concur with the majoritys decision and add the following discussions in its support.

 

The Law on Firearms

 

The definition of firearm has evolved through various statutes and issuances.

 

Under Act No. 1780,[1] a firearm was defined as any rifle, musket, carbine, shotgun, revolver, pistol or air rifle, except air rifles of small caliber and limited range used as toys, or any other deadly weapon from which a bullet, ball, shot, shell or other missile or missiles may be discharged by means of gunpowder or other explosive; the barrel of any of the same shall be considered a firearm.

 

Under Act No. 2711[2] (which repealed Act No. 1780), firearms include rifles, muskets, carbines, shotguns, revolvers, pistols and all other deadly weapons from which a bullet, ball, shot, shell or other missile may be discharged by means of gunpowder or other explosives; the term also includes air rifles except such as being a small caliber and limited range used as toys; the barrel of any firearm shall be considered a complete firearm for all the purposes hereof.

 

Commonwealth Act No. 466, as amended,[3] follows the definition under Act No. 2711, with the modification that the term firearms include air rifles coming under regulations of the Provost Marshal General.

 

Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1866[4] codifies the laws on illegal/unlawful possession, manufacture, dealing in, acquisition or disposition of firearms, ammunition or explosives or instruments used in the manufacture of firearms, ammunition or explosives, and imposed stiffer penalties for its violation. It does not, however, define the term firearm. The definition is provided in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of PD 1866 as follows:

 

Firearm as herein used, includes rifles, muskets, carbines, shotguns, revolvers, pistols and all other deadly weapons from which a bullet, ball, shot, shell or other missile may be discharged by means of gunpowder or other explosives. The term also includes air rifles and air pistols not classified as toys under the provisions of Executive Order No. 712 dated 28 July 1981. The barrel of any firearm shall be considered a complete firearm. [Emphasis supplied.]

 

Executive Order (EO) No. 712, to which the Implementing Rules and Regulations of PD 1866 refers, regulates the manufacture, sale and possession of air rifles/pistols which are considered as firearms. Under its Section 1, the Chief of the Philippine Constabulary is given the authority to prescribe the criteria in determining whether an air rifle/pistol is to be considered a firearm or a toy within the contemplation of Sec. 877 of the Revised Administrative Code. Under Section 3, the Chief of the Philippine Constabulary is also delegated the authority to act dispositively on all applications to manufacture, sell or possess and/or otherwise deal in air rifles/pistols whether considered as firearms or toys under the criteria to be prescribed pursuant to Section 1. The Chief of the Philippine Constabulary shall also prescribe, under Section 4, the rules and regulations to implement EO 712.

 

Republic Act (RA) No. 8294[5], which amended PD 1866, also does not define the term firearm but categorizes it into two: (1) low powered firearm such as rimfire handgun, .380 or .32 and other firearm of similar firepower; and (2) high powered firearm which includes those with bores bigger in diameter than .38 caliber and 9 millimeter, such as caliber .40, .41, .44, .45 and also lesser calibered firearms but considered powerful such as caliber .357 and caliber .22 center-fire magnum and other firearms with firing capability of full automatic and by burst of two or three.

 

The Election Firearms Ban under RA 7166

 

When a statute defines the particular words and phrases it uses, the legislative definition controls the meaning of the statutory word, irrespective of any other meaning the word or phrase may have in its ordinary or usual sense; otherwise put, where a statute defines a word or phrase employed therein, the word or phrase should not, by construction, be given a different meaning; the legislature, in adopting a specific definition, is deemed to have restricted the meaning of the word within the terms of the definition.[6]

 

Significantly, RA 7166 did not provide a statutory definition of the term firearms. The absence of this statutory definition leads to the question of what the term firearms under RA 7166 exactly contemplates? Various rules of statutory construction may be used to consider this query.

 

First, the general rule in construing words and phrases used in a statute is that, in the absence of legislative intent to the contrary, they should be given their plain, ordinary and common usage meaning; the words should be read and considered in their natural, ordinary, commonly accepted usage, and without resorting to forced or subtle construction. Words are presumed to have been employed by the lawmaker in their ordinary and common use and acceptation.[7]

 

Second, a word of general significance in a statute is to be taken in its ordinary and comprehensive sense, unless it is shown that the word is intended to be given a different or restricted meaning; what is generally spoken shall be generally understood and general words shall be understood in a general sense.[8]

 

Third, a word of general signification employed in a statute should be construed, in the absence of legislative intent to the contrary, to comprehend not only peculiar conditions obtaining at the time of its enactment but those that may normally arise after its approval as well. This rule of construction, known as progressive interpretation, extends by construction the application of a statute to all subjects or conditions within its general purpose or scope that come into existence subsequent to its passage, and thus keeps legislation from becoming ephemeral and transitory.[9]

 

Fourth, as a general rule, words that have or have been used in a technical sense or those that have been judicially construed to have a certain meaning, should be interpreted according to the sense in which they have been previously used, although the sense may vary from the strict or literal meaning of the words; the presumption is that the language used in a statute, which has a technical or well-known legal meaning, is used in that sense by the legislature.[10]

 

We cannot apply the first cited rule, under which a firearm could mean a weapon from which a shot is discharged by gunpowder[11] - this is the common usage or acceptation of the term. Specifically, we cannot apply the rule as there previously existed a more comprehensive definition of the term under our legal tradition, i.e., the definition originally provided under Act 1780 which Act 2711 substantially adopted. Under this cited statutory definition, the term firearms may include any other weapon from which a bullet, ball or shot, shell or other missile may be discharged by means of gunpowder or other explosive. Thus, a weapon not using the medium of gunpowder may also be considered a firearm.

 

Under the fourth rule above, the term firearms appears to have acquired a technical or well-known legal meaning. The statutory definition (under Act 2711) included air rifles, except those with small caliber and limited range and used as toys, and that the barrel of any firearm shall be considered a complete firearm for purposes of the law regulating the manufacture, use, possession and transport of firearms.

 

As our legal history or tradition on firearms shows, this old definition has not changed. Thus, we can reasonably assume, in the absence of proof to the contrary, that when the legislature conceived of the election firearms ban, its understanding of the term firearm was in accordance with the definition provided under the then existing laws.

 

However, this old definition should not bar an understanding of firearm suggested by the third rule above that RA 7166, as an act of Congress, is not intended to be short-lived or transitory; it applies not only to existing conditions, but also to future situations within its reasonable coverage. Thus, the election firearms ban (RA 7166) applies as well to technological advances and developments in modern weaponry.

 

It is under this context that we can examine whether an airsoft gun can be considered a firearm. As defined,

Airsoft guns are firearm replicas, often highly detailed, manufactured for recreational purposes. Airsoft guns propel plastic 6mm and 8mm pellets at muzzle velocities ranging from 30 meters per second (m/s) to 180 m/s (100 feet per second [f/s] to 637ft/s) by way of compressed gas or a spring-driven piston. Depending on the mechanism driving the pellet, an airsoft gun can be operated manually or cycled by either compressed gas such as Green Gas (propane), or CO2, a spring, or an electric motor. All pellets are ultimately fired from a piston compressing a pocket of air from behind the pellets.[12]

Other than firearms discharged with the use of gunpowder, the law on firearms includes air rifles but subject to appropriate regulations that the proper authority may promulgate as regards their categorization, whether it is used as a toy.[13] An air gun (e.g. air rifle or air pistol) is a rifle, pistol, or shotgun which fires projectiles by means of compressed air or other gas, in contrast to a firearm which burns a propellant. Most air guns use metallic projectiles as ammunition. Air guns that only use plastic projectiles are classified as airsoft guns.[14]

 

An airsoft gun appears to operate on the same principle as air rifles i.e., it uses compressed air and could properly be considered to be within the coverage of an administrative determination of whether it could be considered a toy or a firearm. From this perspective, airsoft guns can be considered a firearm subject to regulation by the proper authorities.

 

The Authority to Categorize Air Rifles and Airsoft Guns

 

Pursuant to the cited EO 712, the President, then exercising legislative powers and authority, delegated to the Chief of the Constabulary [now the Chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP)], the authority to determine whether certain air rifles/guns can be treated as toys or firearms.[15] Under this same authority, then PNP Chief Avelino Razon issued PNP Circular No. 11 on December 4, 2007.

 

PNP Circular No. 11 requires that airsoft guns and rifles be given the same treatment as firearms and air rifles with respect to licensing, manufacture, possession and transport limitations. In effect, this is the PNP Chiefs determination, by regulation, that airsoft guns and rifles are not simply considered toys beyond administrative regulation but, on the contrary, are considered as weapons subject to regulation. Based on this Circular, they are included under the term firearms within the contemplation of RA 7166, and are therefore appropriate subjects of COMELEC Resolution No. 8714 issued pursuant to this law.

 

 

 

 

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice



[1] An Act to Regulate the Importation, Acquisition, Possession and Transfer of Firearms and to Prohibit the Possession of Same Except in Compliance with the Provisions of this Act. Enacted October 12, 1907.

[2] The Revised Administrative Code of 1917. Enacted March 10, 1917 and Effective October 1, 1917.

[3] National Internal Revenue Code. Enacted July 1, 1939.

[4] Promulgated June 29, 1983 and took effect 15 days following its publication in the Official Gazette.

[5] AN ACT AMENDING THE PROVISIONS OF PRESIDENTIAL DECREE NO. 1866, AS AMENDED, ENTITLED "CODIFYING THE LAWS ON ILLEGAL/UNLAWFUL POSSESSION, MANUFACTURE, DEALING IN, ACQUISITION OR DISPOSITION OF FIREARMS, AMMUNITION OR EXPLOSIVES OR INSTRUMENTS USED IN THE MANUFACTURE OF FIREARMS, AMMUNITION OR EXPLOSIVES, AND IMPOSING STIFFER PENALTIES FOR CERTAIN VIOLATIONS THEREOF, AND FOR RELEVANT PURPOSES." Enacted on June 6, 1997.

[6] Ruben E. Agpalo, Statutory Construction, 177-178 (2003).

[7] Id. at 180.

[8] Id. at 183.

[9] Id. at 185.

[10] Id. at 187.

[11] WEBSTERs Third New International Dictionary, 84 (1993 ed.).

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airsoft_gun; last visited March 16, 2010.

[13] See Executive Order No. 712.

[14] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_gun; last visited March 16, 2010.

[15] See Chavez v. Romulo, G.R. No. 157036, June 9, 2004.