MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday scoffed at the idea of fugitive Cezar Mancao II doing a Ping Lacson.
“The best defense is truth. What will happen to our justice system if everyone who finds himself in conflict with the law would do a Lacson?” De Lima said in a text message to reporters.
De Lima said it would be best for Mancao to face his case in court than go into hiding.
“As an accused, he must face the charges and prove his innocence or put forth extenuating, justifying or exempting circumstance, as the case may be, as would convince the court to absolve or acquit him,” she said.
“That he cannot do as a fugitive,” she said.
The justice secretary was reacting to a report that Mancao planned to surface only after he is cleared by a court of liability in the Dacer-Corbito murders, just like his former boss, Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
Lacson disappeared in 2010 shortly after a court ordered his arrest for alleged involvement in the murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito. After hiding out for a year, Lacson surfaced in March 2011 following a Court of Appeals decision clearing him of the double murder.
Mancao, who was placed on the government’s witness protection program (WPP), in exchange for testifying against his former colleagues in the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force who were, like him, accused of carrying out the double murder. He eventually implicated Lacson himself, the POCTF head at the time of the murders.
However, the Manila regional trial court judge Icasiano Sison, who is handling the Dacer-Corbito case, dismissed Mancao as a witness and ordered him transferred to the Manila City Jail. This prompted Mancao to escape from National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) custody last week, claiming that his life would be endangered at the city jail.
Dropped from WPP
On Monday, De Lima said she had no choice but to drop Mancao from the WPP after he escaped and came out with allegations that the program was riddled with corruption.
On Tuesday, Mancao told a television interview he would only surface when the courts clear him of any involvement in the December 2000 murders. He said he planned to appeal the court decision ordering his transfer to the city jail.
In a telephone interview, Mancao said he would file grave abuse of discretion charges against Sison who acquitted Michael Ray Aquino as one of the accused in the Dacer-Corbito case.
“The judge dismissed (Aquino), but at the same time ordered my transfer to the Manila City Jail,” he said.
Mancao expressed disappointment at the government for not lifting a finger to help him when Sison discharged him as a witness.
“They did not file an appeal on my behalf [as] a government witness,” he said.
On Tuesday, anticrime advocates expressed support for Mancao and called on President Aquino to review the WPP.
“We believe Mancao’s escape is simply symptomatic of how the administration’s witness protection program has become ineffective and weak, that it can no longer be trusted to guarantee the safety of witnesses,” said Arsenio Evangelista of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) at a prayer rally at the Mendiola Bridge on Tuesday.
Victim of injustice
Running priest Father Robert Reyes said the rally was in support of Mancao who was a victim of injustice.
Evangelista questioned the capability of the WPP to secure its witnesses.
“The witnesses from the WPP were either killed or escaped right under their noses,” he said, citing the death of Alfred Mendiola, among other witnesses, while under the WPP.
Mendiola was the main witness to the brutal slaying of his son, Venson, allegedly on orders of the Dominguez car robbery gang.
Mancao said the VACC’s expression of support was unexpected. “I did not expect their support, but I’m glad that the public has realized the predicament I am in,” he said.
Mancao said he was glad to be out of the WPP as he felt he had been “used and abused” by government and the prosecution panel.
He said he was receiving an P8,000 monthly allowance while under the program, from which deductions were made.
“I could not do anything to support my family. I lost so much, so many opportunities. So it was better for me to get out,” he said.
No NBI help
He admitted to having been aided in his escape, but not by any NBI official or guard.
Mancao denied that he was paid by Jose Miguel Arroyo, the husband of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to pin down Lacson for the double murder.
“It’s not true that I was paid. In fact when I ran for congressman in the last election I was with the ticket of President Aquino,” he said.
Another proof that he was not paid was when he dropped the services of lawyer Ferdie Topacio when the latter became the lawyer of Arroyo.
“I had to drop the services of Topacio to avoid people putting malice in my intentions,” he said.—With Tessa Distor