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What Went Before: PH ‘big five’ fugitives

A year since President Benigno Aquino III raised the reward for their capture, the country’s “big five” fugitives remain scot-free.

In August last year, Mr. Aquino offered a reward of P2 million each for the arrest of retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, former Dinagat Island Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. and Globe Asiatique developer Delfin Lee.

Palparan, called “the butcher” by political activists, went into hiding in December 2011 when he was ordered arrested by the Regional Trial Court in Malolos, Bulacan province, in connection with the 2006 abduction of two University of the Philippines students.

The Reyes brothers disappeared in March 2012 after the Regional Trial Court in Puerto Princesa City issued warrants for their arrest for the murder of Palawan broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega.

Ecleo went into hiding after he was meted a 31-year jail sentence by the Sandiganbayan in 2006 for a graft case. In April 2012, a Cebu City court sentenced him to life imprisonment for the killing of his wife. He is the object of a nationwide manhunt.

Lee has a standing arrest warrant issued by a Pampanga court in May 2012 for a multibillion-peso housing scam.

17 ‘tracker teams’

In May, Chief Supt. Francisco Uyami Jr., the head of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), said his group had created 17 “tracker teams” to intensify the manhunt operations for the high-profile fugitives.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson flew to Hong Kong on Jan. 5, 2010, two days before the Department of Justice (DOJ) could charge him with murder in connection with the killings of Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and the public relations agent’s driver Emmanuel Corbito on Nov. 24, 2000.

The prosecutors based their charges on the affidavit and court testimony of former Senior Supt. Cezar Mancao II, who tagged Lacson as the mastermind behind the murders. The prosecutors filed the charges in the Manila Regional Trial Court and recommended no bail.

Lacson denied involvement in the murders and claimed that he was being persecuted because of his damaging exposés against then President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband.

No probable cause

National Bureau of Investigation agents went to the Senate to serve the warrant on Lacson. A janitor and the Senate officer of the day received the warrant.

On Feb. 11, 2010, the Interpol issued a “red notice” for Lacson. The notice requires 188 member countries of Interpol to notify Manila once a fugitive is spotted or arrested. Lacson’s regular and diplomatic passports were later canceled following a court order and requests made by the DOJ.

In March 2011, the appellate court’s special sixth division threw out the double-murder case against Lacson after it found no probable cause to justify the indictment of Lacson for the murders.

The court also voided the warrant for Lacson’s arrest.

Following the ruling, Lacson’s name was stricken from the Interpol’s red notice.

Lacson slipped back into the country on March 26, 2011, entering through the Mactan Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City on Cathay Pacific Airlines’ Flight CX921 from Hong Kong. Inquirer Research

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Tags: Benigno Aquino III , Cathay Pacific Airlines , Coron , Delfin Lee , Dinagat Island , fugitives , Globe Asiatique , housing scam , Joel Reyes , Jovito Palparan , Lapu-Lapu city , Mactan Cebu International Airport , Mario Reyes , political activist , Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. , “big five” fugitives

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