Ping surfaces
() - March 27, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - After more than a year in hiding, Sen. Panfilo Lacson resurfaced before noon yesterday at the Mactan Cebu International Airport where he disembarked from a commercial flight from Hong Kong.

Passengers of Cathay Pacific flight CX 921 that arrived at the Mactan Airport from Hong Kong at 11:42 a.m. said Lacson had taken a window seat.  

A text message from the Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup) said Lacson boarded a twin engine Baron-type aircraft with tail number RPC 2711 in Cebu bound for Manila at about 4:30 p.m. and arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at 6:30 p.m.

Lacson left the country on Jan. 5, 2010, two days before he was charged with the murders of Dacer and Corbito.

It was not clear where he had been since his disappearance in January last year. There had been reports that Lacson had never left the country.

Avsegroup said Lacson arrived with four unnamed individuals. The plane that took Lacson to Manila was piloted by Capt. Kito Allay and one Capt. Bedayo.

Lacson went into hiding after a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with the murders of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in November 2000.

It was the Court of Appeal’s voiding of the arrest warrant that apparently convinced the senator to resurface.

It was also believed that Lacson made his return to the country through Cebu to avoid massive media coverage.

Based on initial information gathered by Manila-based media, Lacson was to leave Mactan for Manila at 8 p.m. on Philippine Air Lines flight PR 864.

Police authorities in Cebu did not have enough information regarding the arrival of Lacson, although it was confirmed by Philippine National Police spokesman Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz Jr.

Lacson was reportedly among the first to come out of the aircraft.

Lacson, who served Cebu for more than three years as chief of the defunct Cebu Metrodisco, did not appear to conceal his identity when he arrived. He was reportedly in his usual checkered shirt.

A person in civilian attire met Lacson at the lobby of the airport.

Cruz said there are no more restrictions to Lacson’s movement in view of the CA order.

The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) dropped Lacson’s name from its red list following the CA’s voiding of the arrest warrant on him.

Lacson’s son and chief of staff Ronald Jay Lacson said the senator declined to grant interviews upon his arrival because he wanted to spend time with his family first.

But he said his father is set to hold a press conference on Monday.

Looking good

Lacson “looked good” when he arrived at the Cebu

Mactan International Airport, according to Bureau of Immigration (BI) Alien Registration Division (ARD) chief Danny Almeda, who is Lacson’s friend.

Almeda welcomed Lacson upon his arrival from Hong Kong.

“He is a very sound, healthy guy, healthy person,” Almeda said when asked for his observation of Lacson.

“This is his home. He is a Filipino,” he said, adding that there was no time for him and the senator to talk lengthily yesterday.

No family member welcomed Lacson.

Almeda claimed he only learned of Lacson’s return yesterday morning and that he was in Cebu only by coincidence. He clarified that he has not been in contact with Lacson since his disappearance.

“It just so happened that I was in Cebu… I think it (return) is above board. I am not the spokesman of Sen. Lacson. I cannot speak for him,” he said when pressed for more details by reporters.

“He (Lacson) is a free man, based on the newspaper reports. He is a regular Filipino,” he said.

Lacson reportedly queued together with the other passengers to have his travel documents checked. He was also cleared by the officer-of-the-day and given no special treatment.

Colleagues’ welcome

Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who had been a fugitive himself for leading several coup attempts against the first Aquino administration, said he felt relieved by Lacson’s resurfacing.

“I am glad that he will be able to go back to the Senate and perform his duties, including that as a judge in the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Gutierrez,” Honasan said in an interview.

Honasan said Lacson would now be able to openly face his accusers and defend himself if ever they decide to appeal the case against him before the Supreme Court.

He said that he expects to see Lacson when the Senate resumes session on May 9.

In the meantime, the Senator would be spending time with his family and adjust to normal life.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, whose family had a falling out with Lacson, also welcomed the return of a colleague.

“I will welcome him. In fact I miss him,” Estrada said.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Thursday ordered that Lacson’s Senate office be reactivated.

Enrile ordered the closure of Lacson’s office last October after the Commission on Audit questioned its continuous operation even with the indefinite absence of the senator.

But Enrile directed the Senate secretary to absorb the staff of Lacson temporarily so that they would remain employed while waiting for his return.

 “He is about ready to come back,” Enrile said explaining his decision to allow Lacson’s office to reopen.

Sen. Manuel Villar also said Lacson “will be at the Senate when it resumes regular session on May 9.”

Chance to defend self

National Bureau of Investigation Director Magtanggol Gatdula said that with Lacson’s resurfacing, the NBI can now focus on other cases.

“We welcome his coming home. The NBI can now focus on other cases and he can now concentrate on his duty as legislator,” said Gatdula.

For her part, Justice Secretry Leila De Lima said she had been expecting Lacson’s reappearance after the CA’s order.

“His surfacing was expected, given the Court of Appeals ruling. I can only hope that whatever option the DOJ (Department of Justice) takes or decides on from the Court of Appeals action, Sen.Lacson will respect,” De Lima said in a text message to The STAR.

Earlier, NBI Foreign Liaison Division chief Claro de Castro said it was the agency which sought the inclusion of Lacson’s name in Interpol’s red list and later its removal following the CA’s issuance of its order.

“If the name of Sen. Lacson is searched in the Interpol website, which is open to public, his name would no longer appear there. He is no longer included in the automated search facilities of the Interpol,” De Castro said. Marvin Sy, Jaime Laude, Evelyn Macairan, Sandy Araneta, Rudy Santos, and The Freeman

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