Former Senior Supt. Michael Ray Aquino’s return to the country may open a new chapter in the decade-long investigation into the Dacer-Corbito double murder case.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday said an impending reinvestigation of the case would include “two to three big names” who were not previously indicted for the November 2000 killings of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito.
“They are big names but they were not included in the previous investigation,” De Lima told reporters a day after the former police senior superintendent returned home after being extradited from the United States.
De Lima declined to identify the personalities, saying the Supreme Court had yet to make a final ruling on Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s alleged involvement in the case. She nodded when asked if the unnamed individuals were former police officials.
Asked why they were not included in the original complaint, she said: “It’s because there was no clear or concrete evidence against them and there was no investigation pursued against them.”
She said the motives for the killing “seem to be intertwined… seem to be related, but involving different personalities.”
Possible Dacer appeal
She said Dacer’s children could still appeal the June 14 ruling of the high court which threw out their petition seeking to nullify an earlier Court of Appeals decision exonerating Lacson.
“So we have to wait for the Supreme Court’s final ruling. The [prosecution] panel said there are others who could still be indicted,” De Lima said.
She said the new development showed the need for the Department of Justice (DoJ) to reinvestigate the killings.
She said a reinvestigation of the case “is really needed because it is becoming unclear. So we are back to square one, back to zero.”
De Lima also said the DoJ would go after another personality who “is already an accused” but who has been hiding in the United States. “That person could be extradited,” she said.
“There had actually been a previous coordination with the US but his exact location could not be ascertained so his extradition could not be pursued then,” she said.
Other side of law
For his part, Aquino must now know what it’s like to be on the other side of the law.
His lawyers on Monday asked Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 18 to keep him at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters on Taft Avenue, instead of detaining him at Manila City Jail or any other prison.
They said keeping Aquino at the city jail “or any other facility will imperil (his) life and personal safety” because he had been instrumental in capturing many of the criminals now in jail.
“The accused Aquino will be a veritable ‘sitting duck’ for these ruthless and vindictive syndicates and hardened criminals,” the lawyers said in an urgent motion.
Safer at NBI
Aquino said upon his return that he had nothing to do with the murders in 2000 and denied prosecution allegations that he had received orders from then President Estrada and from Lacson to kill Dacer.
Aquino was operations chief of the now defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) and Lacson its head when the double murder occurred.
Since his return, he has been held at an NBI detention cell with 21 other detainees charged with murder, robbery and estafa.
In their motion, Aquino’s lawyers said that as a former officer of the PAOCTF, Aquino “caused the capture and imprisonment of numerous criminals.”
They included “members of the dreaded Red Scorpion Kidnap for Ransom Gang, the Kuratong Baleleng Gang, the Waray Waray Gang, the Baleng-Baleng/Surigao KFR Gang, the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, et al.,” the motion said.
“To protect him from these criminal syndicates and their cohorts, accused Aquino respectfully requests that this honorable court allow and order his continued detention in the detention facility at the NBI headquarters where security is adequate,” it said.
Simonette Sibal-Pulido, an Aquino lawyer, told reporters there was no specific threat on Aquino’s life but she and other lawyers were not discounting the fact given that Aquino was a former police officer.
Judge Thelma Medina scheduled a hearing on the motion on July 1.
Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Philip Kimpo said the court might issue a warrant of arrest to acquire jurisdiction over Aquino and allow him to plead guilty or not guilty.
Aquino hardly slept during his first night as the newest NBI inmate, said NBI Director Magtanggol Gatdula, a former colleague of Aquino’s at the PAOCTF.
“Apparently he has yet to adjust with our time zone since he had been in the US for the last 10 years,” Gatdula said at a news briefing.
Aquino’s mother, sister, uncle and mistahs (classmates) from the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1988 visited him at the tightly guarded facility, Gatdula said.
The NBI director said Aquino and his former PAOCTF colleagues had not asked for any favors and the bureau said it was not giving Aquino special treatment.
Before the press conference, Gatdula apparently got irked when a television reporter asked him for comment about the supposed VIP treatment for Aquino.
“Why are you insisting that there’s special treatment for him? There’s no truth to that. Since he arrived, he had been staying in a prison cell here with other detainees,” Gatdula said in a raised voice.
After the briefing, Gatdula clarified he was not angry and that he was just trying to douse speculation that Aquino was being treated differently from other detainees.