For perhaps the first time, former police colleagues and double-murder suspects Cezar Mancao and Michael Ray Aquino faced each other in court Wednesday at the continuation of the Dacer-Corbito murder trial at the Manila Regional Trial Court’s branch 32.
Mancao had implicated Aquino and his former superior, Senator Panfilo Lacson, for the murders of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and the latter’s driver, Emmanuel Corbito, in 2000, claiming that he had heard Lacson order Aquino to carry out the killings.
The three worked together in the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), whose top people are accused of carrying out the murders. Lacson headed the PAOCTF during the short-lived Estrada presidency.
After fleeing the country and hiding out for 10 years in the United States, Aquino was extradited to the Philippines last June to face the murder charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Mancao, another extradited fugitive, was presented by the prosecution as a witness against Aquino.
The nearly three-hour closed-door hearing Wednesday was meant for Mancao to positively identify Aquino in court. However, the hearing ended up focusing mainly on the Aquino lawyers’ cross-examination of Mancao, attempting to impeach him as a credible witness, said Manuel Joseph Bretaña, one of the defense lawyers.
“I think the results were favorable to us because [Mancao’s] testimony was riddled with inconsistencies,” Bretaña said.
One of this, he said, was Mancao denying he knew about a Court of Appeals decision describing him as an “untrustworthy” witness, though records show that he had even signed a motion for a review of the ruling.
The February appellate court decision ruled that there was no probable cause to indict Lacson for the murders, and said Mancao was “not a credible and trustworthy witness.”
Aquino’s lawyers are trying to use the same ruling to have their client similarly cleared of the charges.
But senior state prosecutor Phillip Kimpo said the appellate court ruling is on appeal with the Supreme Court and was thus “not final.”
He added that it applied only to Lacson and not all of the accused.
Despite being on opposing sides, Bretaña said that Mancao and Aquino were “civil” and even “friendly” to each other, even making small talk before the hearing began.
But Kimpo said that for the duration of the hearing, they largely ignored each other, with Aquino sitting quietly in a corner.
The cross-examination and the hearing will continue on November 23. The presentation of evidence for all the accused, including Aquino, may follow after the cross-examination of Mancao.
In May 2001, the justice department filed double murder charges against 22 men, for the Nov. 24, 2000 abduction and killing of Dacer and Corbito. Lacson was not among the PAOCTF officials charged. Neither was Senior Superintendent Teofilo Viña, the PAOCTF deputy chief of operations for Luzon, whom witnesses tagged as the leader of the group that killed Dacer and Corbito and burned their remains. In January 2003, Viña was shot dead in Tanza, Cavite.
The highest-ranking police officer to be charged for the crime was Superintendent Glenn Dumlao, the PAOCTF deputy chief of operations for Luzon. In an affidavit, Dumlao said Lacson and deposed President Joseph Estrada may have had knowledge of the murders, which the two denied.
Dumlao also claimed that Aquino and Mancao was part of the group that planned the murders. Aquino and Mancao fled the country in July 2001. They were charged in absentia in September 2001. Dumlao also fled the country in May 2003.
In November 2008, Mancao and Dumlao were arrested in the US. They were both extradited in 2009. Aquino was extradited last June after serving a serving a three-year jail term in a US jail for espionage.