GMA disbands PAOCTF: Dacer case dooms task force

- Christina Mendez -
Was it an elite task force against organized crime or the most powerful organized crime group in the previous administration?

As investigators sift through a list of criminal activities allegedly involving members of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), Pre-sident Arroyo has decided to disband the special police unit.The abduction and murder of publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito on Nov. 24 last year, in which a number of PAOCTF members were implicated, served as the proverbial last nail on the coffin of the once celebrated anti-crime group.

A confidential report submitted to the President recently alleged that in the previous administration, some PAOCTF members were involved in major crimes including kidnap-for-ransom, car theft, money laundering, drug trafficking and large-scale real estate fraud even as it maintained a high profile for its alleged successes in combating organized crime.

"This allowed the PAOCTF to easily rescue kidnap victims and even return the ransom money intact. Precisely because some (PAOCTF) officials were handlers of certain criminal groups," the report said.

The report also asserted that the PAOCTF eventually neutralized its contacts in the underworld through mock raids and summary executions.

Police Director Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., who took over the PAOCTF after EDSA II, confirmed that President Arroyo has dismantled his unit, although he has yet to receive the formal written order.

PAOCTF personnel, numbering about 100, will be absorbed by a new special task force that will operate under the umbrella of the Philippine National Police directorate for administration, which Ebdane heads in a concurrent capacity.

As chief of the new task force, Ebdane will be reporting directly to PNP chief Director General Leandro Mendoza.

Ebdane said the new unit will take over the cases currently being investigated by the PAOCTF.

The alleged involvement of at least six PAOCTF policemen, two of them officials, in the Dacer-Corbito case hastened the task force’s unraveling.

Four of the policeman-suspects whose identities remained withheld, along with three of their alleged civilian accomplices, have surrendered to the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, corroborating statements of civilian suspects Alex Diloy and Jimmy Lopez, both farmers from Indang, Cavite.

Diloy and Lopez said their quarry were killed and burned on the very same day they were snatched in Manila.

Witnesses tagged Senior Superintendents Teofilo Viña, PAOCTF-Visayas chief, and Michael Ray Aquino as leaders of the kidnap group.

Ousted President Joseph Estrada created the PAOCTF through Executive Order No. 8 shortly after he assumed office in July 1998.

The PAOCTF, billed as a PNP superbody under the administrative control and supervision of then PNP chief Panfilo Lacson, took over from the defunct Presidential Anti-Crime Commission headed by then Vice President Estrada.
Kuratong Baleleng case may be revived
A re-opening of the celebrated Kuratong-Baleleng (KB) case appeared imminent following disclosure of an archived National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) report stating that the 11 robbery-holdup suspects were summarily executed and not killed in a shootout with a composite team of law enforcers on May 18, 1995.

"Lives were lost. The re-opening of the case is the only way to clear this very sensitive issue," said Quezon Rep. Wigberto Tañada, a senatorial candidate of the ruling People Power Coalition (PPC).

Lawyer Francis Pangilinan, also a PPC senatorial bet, said Lacson should answer the criminal charges leveled against him and his men in connection with the KB case.

Pangilinan, legal counsel of four of the prosecution witnesses in the case, said the NBI report prepared by lawyer Roel Lasala on July 14, 1995 merely bolstered suspicions that the 11 victims were "salvaged" by the law enforcers a few hours after they were arrested in separate areas in Metro Manila on May 17.

"The report only confirmed our earlier assertions that it was indeed a rubout and not a shootout. Lacson was really involved in this. He can’t deny it anymore. The justice department should show to the people that no one is above the law, not even Lacson. If he is claiming otherwise, he should prove his innocence," Pangilinan said in a statement.

The initial batch of whistle-blowers on the alleged Kuratong-Baleleng rubout invariably clammed up or retracted their previous statements, relegating the case to the archives.

Even congressional inquiries on the case abruptly stopped with no clear findings, and the implicated PACC operatives who had been placed under preventive suspension pending completion of the probe were subsequently reinstated and given juicy assignments under Lacson’s stewardship of the PNP.
Inventory of PAOCTF tools sought
PPC senatorial bets re-electionist Senators Juan Flavier and Ramon Magsaysay Jr. sought a proper inventory and accountability of equipment and funds allocated to the defunct PAOCTF.

"We need proper inventory of equipment (and) at the same time an audit of the agency funds before everything is turned over to the PNP," the two lawmakers said.

Magsaysay said when a government agency loses its credibility, it is bound to be disbanded.

"Its original purpose had a noble objective, but the head of the agency can make or break PAOCTF," a PPC statement quoted him as saying.

Most PPC senatoriables hailed Mrs. Arroyo’s abolition of the PAOCTF. Batangas Rep. Ralph Recto viewed it as an "important development."

For his part, Bohol Rep. Ernesto Herrera branded the PAOCTF as a "notorious government agency."

"Since the PAOCTF has lost the support of the people, we can’t expect them anymore to perform its role because it has figured in some major crimes. So how can we expect them to solve criminality if the agency itself is involved with crimes," Herrera said.

The government has allotted P200 million for the task force even as the unit reportedly lost several Spy Kits or G-Track meant for its surveillance operations.

The PAOCTF was also swept into a controversy involving spying and wire-tapping against members of the then political opposition, certain journalists and business leaders critical of Estrada.

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