Former police Senior Supt. Cezar Mancao on Thursday accused Sen. Panfilo Lacson of trying to get him killed, forcing him to escape from detention at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila.
Mancao, accused of murder for the 2000 killings of well-known public relations agent Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, bolted from the NBI jail early Thursday and embarrassed the government by calling news organizations to explain why he escaped.
“I know about the plan to have me killed,” Mancao said.
At first, Mancao did not say who was behind the alleged plot to kill him but when asked by the news anchor if he was referring to Lacson, he replied: “You said it.”
Mancao said Lacson was behind the move to transfer him from NBI custody to the Manila City Jail, where he said his life could be in danger.
Lacson, former chief of the Philippine National Police and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) some of whose agents allegedly killed Dacer and Corbito, shrugged off reports of Mancao’s escape.
“His escape is his problem, as well as his custodian’s,” Lacson said in response to questions from reporters.
He also refused to give a statement about Mancao’s claim that he was behind the move to transfer him from the NBI to the city jail.
His staff also refused to give any statement about Mancao’s claims that the senator was a threat to his life.
Four policemen accused in the Dacer-Corbito case had asked Judge Carolina Icasiano-Sison of the 18th Branch of the Manila Regional Trial Court to order the transfer of Mancao to the city jail, where they and 21 other former police officers charged in the case are detained.
The policemen argued that since Mancao was no longer a state witness and an accused in the case, he should not be given special treatment.
The court granted the policemen’s petition and issued a commitment order late on Tuesday but as it was a holiday, the order could not be enforced.
Mancao was scheduled to be transferred to the city jail Thursday but he got wind of it and, with the help of two guards, escaped early in the morning.
“I will not surrender. Not now,” Mancao said. “I am a victim of injustice.”
“My rights have been violated,” he said.
President Aquino ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Mancao’s escape.
“The President has instructed (Justice) Secretary Leila de Lima to [investigate] and hold accountable all the people who would be found responsible for the escape of Mr. Mancao,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
De Lima ordered the NBI to investigate Mancao’s escape and launch a manhunt for the former PAOCTF officer who implicated Lacson in the murders of Dacer and Corbito.
NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas said the manhunt began Thursday.
“We have alerted all of our units nationwide for the manhunt and we are now conducting a full investigation to pinpoint the people responsible for the escape. [We will bring] criminal and administrative charges [against them],” Rojas said.
He said two guards who apparently let Mancao escape had been detained.
NBI Deputy Director for Intelligence Reynaldo Esmeralda said footage from a security camera showed Mancao calmly leaving his cell at 1:14 a.m. Thursday carrying a big black travel bag. He was wearing a bull cap.
Esmeralda said Mancao left a note asking that his things not be removed without “a proper inventory.”
De Lima also ordered the Bureau of Immigration to stop Mancao in case he tried to leave the country.
Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. in turn ordered the bureau’s personnel at all ports to look out for Mancao.
De Lima told reporters that she spoke to Mancao by phone hours after he escaped.
“He repeatedly asked for forgiveness and understanding for what he did because, according to him, his life was in danger,” De Lima said.
De Lima confirmed that Mancao escaped because he feared he would be killed once transferred to the city jail.
“He claimed he had sources [who told him his life would be in danger there],” she said.
De Lima said she tried to convince Mancao to surrender and offered to bring him in for his safety.
She said she assured Mancao that he would be held at the NBI while he was appealing the court order for his transfer to the city jail.
Mancao refused and said he was already outside Metro Manila, De Lima said.
She said she spoke to Mancao again in the afternoon. Mancao, she said, was adamant about not surrendering.
“He said that as of now, his decision was not to surrender, although it didn’t mean that in the next few days he would not change his mind,” De Lima said.
“I told him that if he did not surrender today [Thursday], then I’m sorry, I will have to intensify the manhunt for you,” she said.
“For all intents and purposes, legally and technically speaking, he is now a fugitive from justice,” De Lima said.
Mancao and another former police officer, Michael Ray Aquino, were charged with murder for the killings of Dacer and Corbito.
The two men were protégés of Lacson in the police service and in the PAOCTF.
Dacer and Corbito were abducted allegedly by PAOCTF agents in October 2000. Their burned remains were found in a creek in Cavite province in 2001.
Suspicion fell on Lacson and former President Joseph Estrada. Both denied having anything to do with the murders.
Murder charges were brought against 22 policemen and PAOCTF agents in 2001. Among those arrested was the PAOCTF deputy chief for operations in Luzon, Senior Supt. Glenn Dumlao, who linked Mancao and Aquino to the murders.
Mancao and Aquino fled to the United States in June 2001 but they were charged in absentia in September that year.
No evidence was found against Dumlao and he was discharged from the case. He left for the United States in 2003.
In May 2006, the court found probable cause to prosecute Mancao and Aquino and ordered their arrest.
The administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo asked the US government to extradite Mancao and Aquino.
By that time, Aquino had been arrested, tried and jailed for spying for the Philippine political opposition led by Estrada.
In February 2009, Mancao executed an affidavit accusing Lacson of being the mastermind behind the Dacer-Corbito murders.
He said Lacson ordered Dacer killed because the PR agent was a fierce critic of Estrada.
When the killers struck, Dacer was apparently their lone target. But they also killed Corbito because he was with Dacer at the time.
Mancao returned to Manila in June 2009, pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, and offered to serve as state witness in the case. He was subsequently put under government protection.
With Mancao’s testimony, the DOJ brought murder charges against Lacson, who fled the country before the court could issue a warrant for his arrest.
Dumlao returned to the Philippines and told the court trying the case that the DOJ induced him to link Lacson to the killings.
He also told reporters that DOJ prosecutors forced him to blame the killings on Lacson.
Unfit as witness
Lacson fought the charges in the Court of Appeals while on the run. In February 2011, the court’s sixth division threw out Mancao’s affidavit after finding inconsistencies in his testimony that, the court said, made him unfit as a state witness.
Lacson surfaced and Mancao was taken off the government protection program and turned over to the NBI.
No longer under government protection, Mancao became a target for the defense, which sought his transfer to the Manila City Jail.
In an interview on radio Thursday, Mancao said the court order to transfer him to the city jail was “an aggravation.”
“That was just too much,” he said. “I am the witness but I am the one going to jail,” he said.
“My life was ruined by this case but I have nothing to do with it,” he said.
“Their intention is different,” he said, referring to the people behind the move to transfer him to the city jail.
“It’s my life they want,” he added.
Attempt at reconciliation
A source with knowledge of the case said Mancao tried to reconcile with Lacson through Aquino, who returned to the Philippines in June 2011 and was not prosecuted for lack of evidence against him.
“But Ping turned down the pleas of Mancao, also through Aquino,” the source said, using Lacson’s nickname.
Aquino now works as a security guard at a company named Solaire. “He has gotten his life back,” the source said.
Mancao also wants his life back, the source said.
Lacson’s forgiveness would help bring back Mancao’s life but Lacson refused to forgive his former aide, the source said.
They have moved on
Lacson is apparently in the clear concerning the Dacer-Corbito killings. He will complete his third term in the Senate in June and will join the Cabinet to handle a still unspecified job.
Estrada was never charged. He is now running for mayor of Manila.
Dumlao has also moved on. He is now commander of the Public Safety Battalion of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Aurora, Quezon) police.
Mancao’s former lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, on Thursday called on him to surrender.
Topacio said Mancao’s “justifiable frustration” over the treatment he was getting from the DOJ forced him to escape.
But he said Mancao should turn himself in.
“If it is necessary for me to give my assistance again to him, I will gladly do so,” Topacio said.
A source said Mancao, who ran for a congressional seat in 2010, is a candidate for councilor in Compostela Valley.
“He will surrender eventually. He just wants people to take notice of his predicament. He feels an injustice was done to him,” the source said. With reports from Cathy C. Yamsuan, Michael Lim Ubac, Philip C. Tubeza, Marlon Ramos, Inquirer.net and AFP