A very angry Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday dropped fugitive Cezar Mancao II from the Witness Protection Program (WPP) that the suspect in the Dacer-Corbito murder case had criticized as ridden with corruption.
“How can we secure someone who is hiding and lambasting the program that adopted him? Where is your sense of responsibility?” De Lima said in an interview with reporters.
A former police senior superintendent whose offer to serve as state witness in the trial of the Dacer-Corbito case had been rejected by the court, Mancao told a Manila newspaper on Sunday that the program was ridden with corruption and urged Malacañang to review it and see whether its budget really went to witness protection.
But instead of ordering an investigation, Malacañang challenged Mancao on Monday to prove his allegations.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters that Mancao’s allegations were “motherhood statements,” but if he could produce evidence then the Department of Justice (DOJ) would investigate.
“If he really wants to help the program then [he should] turn himself in and let us know. We will investigate,” Lacierda said.
That’s an insult
De Lima said Mancao insulted and embarrassed the DOJ and the National Bureau of Investigation by alleging there was corruption in the WPP.
She said she was the program’s “chief implementor,” and called Mancao’s allegation a “big lie.”
“I challenge him, if he is telling the truth that there is corruption in the WPP, to produce the evidence,” she said.
Mancao reportedly said he had saved text messages from DOJ and NBI officials that would prove his claims.
Explaining Mancao’s accusation that he had been denied a doctor of his choice, De Lima said only the court could grant his request, not the WPP, because he was not yet a state witness.
Lacierda said Mancao’s statement to journalists that he escaped because he was in danger of being killed in the Manila City Jail, to which the court had ordered him transferred in a plot that he charged involved Sen. Panfilo Lacson, his former boss in the Philippine National Police, was just “his claim.”
But De Lima said it was “plausible” that Mancao feared for his life because he was involved in “one of the most sensational and high-profile cases in the country” that have seen no closure “and because of the personalities involved.”
“That’s why we cannot just ignore what he is saying,” she said.
In an affidavit that he submitted to the prosecution, Mancao linked Lacson, who was also chief of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), to the murders in 2000 of public relations agent Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito.
Mancao said Lacson ordered Dacer killed because the PR agent was a fierce critic of then President Joseph Estrada.
Both Estrada and Lacson denied Mancao’s allegations. Estrada was not charged, but the DOJ brought murder charges against Lacson in 2010. He fled the country, returning a year later after the Court of Appeals had cleared him.
Lacson reportedly said he had long forgiven Mancao and had no interest in his former protégé in the PAOCTF.
The government has launched a manhunt for Mancao, who claimed in one interview with the Inquirer last week that he was getting help from friends, enabling him to elude his pursuers.
De Lima said she terminated Mancao’s protection coverage because he was “on the run.”
With Mancao out there, De Lima said there was no way the government could protect him.
“In order to protect and preserve the integrity of the program, I have no choice (but to terminate his coverage). . . . And I have no choice, I will be the laughingstock. . . . and I will be questioned if I insist on putting him on the WPP,” she said.
Help from the inside?
Investigators are looking into the possibility that Mancao had help in escaping from his cell in NBI headquarters after 1 a.m. last Thursday.
The investigation found that the supervisor of the two guards assigned to Mancao issued an order to transfer him from his ordinary cell to a special cell last Wednesday night.
The investigators did not disclose the name of the guards’ supervisor.
Mancao was to be transferred to the city jail last Thursday on orders of Judge Carolina Icasiano-Sison of the 18th Branch of the Manila Regional Trial Court, who granted the petition of four former police officers who are accused in the Dacer-Corbito case.
Mancao beat his transfer by escaping. Video from a security camera showed him casually walking out of the NBI building carrying a travel bag and wearing a ballcap.
De Lima said the investigation had not concluded that the order to transfer Mancao to another cell was part of an “orchestrated plan” to help him escape.
Mancao told journalists that no one helped him escape.
The DOJ has suspended NBI guards Pablo Lani Remalante and Ibrahim Musa and five members of the bureau’s Security Management Division, including its chief, Rodrigo Mapoy, for Mancao’s escape.
The manhunt for Mancao will go on “for as long as it takes,” NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas said on Monday.
“This is the NBI’s priority at the moment,” Rojas told reporters. “In fact, some of our other works are on hold (so we can) concentrate on this. Even if it’s taking a lot of effort, a lot of resources, a lot of people from the NBI working on this, we will do that just so we can pursue and bring back Mr. Mancao.”
Mancao told the Inquirer last Saturday that his pursuers were just wasting their time and resources.
“They won’t find me. What they will spend in looking for me is better donated to the victims of Typhoon ‘Pablo’ in Compostela Valley,” Mancao said.
“That’s his opinion,” Rojas said. “Just the same, we will not stop. We will continue this manhunt operation.”
Mancao is from Compostela Valley. He is running for a seat on the provincial board of Compostela Valley in local elections next Monday.
Rojas said the NBI had no plan of offering a reward for Mancao’s capture.
“We’ll have to discuss that with the secretary of justice and the secretary of the interior and local government,” he said.
Having been dropped from the WPP, Mancao would be treated as an “ordinary accused” and be detained in the Manila City Jail once he was captured, Rojas said.
But if he surrenders, he will be held first at NBI headquarters, he said.
De Lima had promised to help Mancao appeal the court order for his transfer to the city jail.
Rojas called on the public to cooperate with the government in the search for Mancao, whom he described as a “fugitive from justice.”
“For those who are coddling him, of course, they will face criminal liability,” Rojas said.
“Obviously, he’s not alone. He has some people with him, but we cannot say exactly how many,” he said.—With reports from TJ Burgonio and Erika Sauler