Arrest warrant out for Ping

- Sandy Araneta -

MANILA, Philippines - The Manila Regional Trial Court yesterday ordered the arrest of Sen. Panfilo Lacson as the principal accused in the murders of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in November 2000.

Manila RTC Branch 18 Judge Myra Garcia-Fernandez issued the warrant for the arrest of Lacson a month after the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the murder charges against the senator for allegedly masterminding the killing of Dacer and Corbito.

The arrest warrant was dated Feb. 4 but was released only yesterday.

Lacson left the country on the evening of Jan. 5 on Hong Kong-bound Cathay Pacific flight CX 904.

He released a statement admitting his escape from the country to avoid what he called “harassment” by the Arroyo administration.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to serve the warrant on Lacson.

Devanadera also ordered the NBI to coordinate with the International Police and other foreign law enforcement agencies to track down Lacson and serve the arrest warrant.

She said Lacson could be legally called a fugitive since “the law is after him now.”

“He’s no longer a tourist. He’s considered a fugitive now,” Devanadera said.

A team of NBI agents led by Ricardo Diaz arrived at the Senate yesterday to serve the arrest warrant on Lacson.

Copies of the warrant were furnished to the offices of Lacson, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and the Senate sergeant-at-arms (OSAA).

Since there were no officials present to sign for the warrant, OSAA officer on duty Augusto Angeles received it on behalf of the Senate while a janitor, Mario Tolentino, signed for the copy on behalf of the office of the Senate President.

No one among the staff of Lacson was present to receive the copy of the warrant on behalf of the senator.

Lacson’s lawyers Alexander Poblador and Alex Avisado, on the other hand, said they would bring the case before the Court of Appeals if the Manila RTC would refuse to grant their motion for reconsideration.

Poblador insisted that there is no evidence to establish probable cause to merit the issuance of a warrant for the arrest of Lacson.

Both Poblador and Avisado, however, admitted they have yet to get in touch with Lacson on the belief that the senator would come back and face the charges.

Devanadera said the government has “no definitive information” on the whereabouts of Lacson. She noted reports that the senator went to Hong Kong and may have gone into hiding somewhere in Australia.

She said the government could invoke the extradition treaty with the country where Lacson would be located.

But if Lacson happens to be in a country with which the Philippines does not have an extradition treaty, Devanadera said there are other ways to force the repatriation of the lawmaker.

She said the actions of the government would depend on data and information gathered by the NBI.

Malacañang warned that the government would have to resort to stronger measures to force Lacson to come home and face the charges.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) might have to cancel Lacson’s passport to force him to come home.

Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III explained that once Lacson’s passport is cancelled, the senator would be considered an undocumented alien by the host country where he is staying and could be deported.

“If he (Lacson) shows indication that he does not intend to come back, his passport will be cancelled. But if he sends feelers that he will return, that won’t have to happen,” Planas said.

“Once the order of arrest is issued, that has to be implemented, (and) he will be hunted so the court’s order can be implemented,” she said.

The DFA, on the other hand, said it would have to wait for instructions from the DOJ on where and when it would invoke the extradition process for Lacson’s repatriation.

DFA spokesman Eduardo Malaya said the Philippines has extradition treaties with 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Micronesia, Switzerland, Thailand and the United States.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar, for his part, urged Lacson to come home and assured the senator that he would be protected.

“Up to now, Sen. Lacson has not shown any evidence that there is really a threat on his life, so there is no need to give him any assurance because under the law, it is the obligation and duty of the government to protect all suspects in custody,” Olivar said.

He noted that Lacson fled the country even before the warrant for his arrest came out.

Ample time given

Devanadera said the arrest warrant against Lacson merely affirmed the findings of government prosecutors of his alleged involvement in the double murder case.

She also argued that the Manila court’s decision disproves Lacson’s allegations of harassment by the government.

Devanadera said the case principally stemmed from the complaint filed by Dacer’s daughters.

“What happened here was a regular preliminary investigation where he was given ample time to answer the charges. I don’t see any reason for him to complain now when he availed (himself) of his rights during preliminary investigation and even appeared in the hearing,” Devanadera said.

Judge Fernandez, in the 18-page resolution for the arrest of Lacson, cited several reasons why the senator has to be arrested.

Fernandez considered the statements of former police senior superintendents Cezar Mancao II and Glenn Dumlao directly implicating Lacson, their former boss in the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), in the murders.

Mancao had tagged Lacson, then Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, as among six people in the PAOCTF that carried out Operation Delta, the supposed covert plan to silence Dacer.

Mancao also named former senior police officials Michael Ray Aquino, Teofilo Viña, Vicente Arnado and Dumlao as having taken part in Operation Delta.

Fernandez had taken over the cases, including the original case filed in 2001, and ordered them consolidated under the present case.

Fernandez also denied the motions filed by Avisado and Poblador seeking to dismiss the case against Lacson and defer the issuance of the warrant of arrest.

She said the court found probable cause for the issuance of the warrant of arrest for Lacson and recommended no bail during the trial.

Avisado, on the other hand, said they would review the resolution issued by Fernandez along with the warrant issued.

“We’ll first look into this order and file the necessary motion in court questioning the findings of the (Manila) RTC and in the meantime, we will also request that the serving of the warrant be deferred until our motion for reconsideration is heard and resolved,” Avisado said.

Avisado noted the arrest warrant was dated Thursday and issued only yesterday, hours before they filed their motion for consolidation, motion for judicial determination of probable cause, and the motion to exclude information on behalf of Lacson.

Poblador insisted Fernandez committed grave abuse of discretion in considering Mancao’s statement as basis to issue the warrant of arrest against Lacson.

Poblador argued Fernandez committed a mistake in taking over the jurisdiction of the case from another Manila court where the case was originally filed in 2001.

No coward

Poblador and Avisado called on the government to defer any plans to extradite Lacson so as not to condition the minds of the public that the senator has no more legal recourse to fight his arrest.

Avisado criticized Devanadera for making premature pronouncements “which tend to preempt or influence the decision of the presiding judge.”

He said Lacson’s flight was not an indication of guilt since he left even before the arrest warrant was issued.

“At the time he left, he did not violate any law or (was proven to have committed) any crime,” Avisado pointed out.

At the end of the day, Avisado said, Lacson would come back and face the charges against him.

“As for the lawyers, all we could do is inform him of the legal remedies available to him and as of now there are still legal remedies available to Senator Lacson,” Avisado said.

He said Lacson could decide to preempt the service of the warrant by coming out in the open and surrendering to the authorities.

Avisado said they got in touch with Lacson’s family and advised them of the legal remedies available to the beleaguered senator.

“Knowing Senator Lacson, I just want to say he is not the type who will run away,” he said.

‘He’s not a coward’

Former Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz yesterday said Lacson met with him a couple of days before the senator left the country.

“I knew that he (Lacson) was leaving the country. He visited me in Intramuros about two or three days before he left. We were able to talk but what we discussed was just between the two of us,” Cruz said.

But Cruz stressed Lacson is not the type of person who runs away from a fight.

“Senator Ping Lacson is not a coward. He is just afraid because the (Arroyo) administration has not stopped harassing him,” he said.

When asked what his advice to Lacson would be, Cruz said, “I was just listening to him. I think his decision to leave the country was justifiable.”

Cruz, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the cliché “flight is a sign of guilt” does not apply in the case of Lacson.

“He is not a coward. He just does not stand a chance,” Cruz said.

He believed that it would be difficult for Lacson to get a fair trial under present circumstances.

Cruz said he does not know where Lacson went.

“We have not communicated since he left the country. He would just contact me when there is a major issue,” he said.

Lacson’s Senate colleagues led by Enrile called on the senator to come and face the charges to clear his name.

“I would suggest to him that he should come back and face the issues squarely just like what happened to me when I was charged during the time of (former President) Cory Aquino and also (at the time of President Arroyo), I went to court and faced the music,” Enrile said.

Enrile said the Senate would see to it that the rights of Lacson are respected and allow the law to take its course.

“We can’t interfere with the enforcement of the warrant because that’s the action of our judicial system. As far as the Senate is concerned, of course, we will see what assistance we could give to a fellow senator. But we will not resist or obstruct the administration of justice in our country,” Enrile said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. also said the public should withhold condemnation of Lacson “until justice is done.”

“Double murder is not bailable but if evidence is insufficient, he might be entitled to bail,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II said Lacson should have known what to do in case the warrant against him was issued.

“I do not need to advise him (Lacson) what he has to do. We are ready to assist him (and) secure his safety if he needs any help,” Roxas said. - With Aurea Calica, Edu Punay, Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Evelyn Macairan and Michael Punongbayan









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