Police arrest arms trafficking syndicate members in Lipa

Bea Cupin
Police arrest arms trafficking syndicate members in Lipa
Authorities say the guns the syndicate produced are similar to those seized in Marawi City

MANILA, Philippines – Police on Tuesday, July 4, announced the arrest of the alleged leader and 3 members of an arms trafficking syndicate that had been doing business for over 22 years.

Arrested during an operation in Lipa City, Batangas last July 1 were Romel Litan, the supposed leader of the syndicate, and 3 others.

Among their clients? “Politicians, military and police personnel, and criminal groups based in Mindanao and the National Capital Region (NCR),” according to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).

In a press conference on Tuesday, PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa said that based on the record book seized from the suspects, some of the firearms ended up in Marawi City, where government troops are still battling terrorists.

Litan, said police, claimed to have been a gunsmith licensed to assemble and refurbish M16 rifles and other short firearms. According to the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO), however, he did not have the proper licenses to do this.

Dela Rosa said one of the firearms manufactured by the syndicate – a “Spikes” rifle – resembled those seized by government forces in Marawi City.

“Itong mga baril daw talagang na-recover sa Marawi, galing daw sa kanila. Siya ang nagpintura, siya ang nagkulay (These guns were supposedly sourced from them. They painted it, they colored it),” said Dela Rosa, quoting one of the suspects.

From December 2015 up to present, over 671 rifles were assembled and sold, according to their own logbooks. The firearms sold for an average of P250,000 but police in the entrapment operation were able to haggle down to P150,000, said CIDG chief Director Roel Obusan.

Firearms were supposedly transferred from Manila to Mindanao through roll-on, roll-off (RORO) ships. “The items were transported with the assistance of unidentified contacts who are active personnel of the PNP and the AFP,” said the CIDG.

The PNP chief also showed silencers from the syndicate which he claimed were similar to those used by enemy snipers in Marawi City. Police are still cross-checking these claims.

The suspects will be charged for the illegal production of firearms and may face further charges should it be proven that they knowingly provided firearms to terror groups.

While admitting that Litan’s group isn’t the only possible source of firearms for terror groups in Marawi City, Dela Rosa said their arrest ensures that “in the future, bawas na ang supply nila ng firearms (the supply of firearms is reduced).” –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.