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US approves Michael Ray’s extradition

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 03:29 AM June 14, 2011

The US Department of State has given the green light to the extradition of Michael Ray Aquino, a prime suspect in the Dacer-Corbito double murder case, offering hope to prosecutors who suffered a major blow early this year when a court ruling got his coaccused and former boss, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, off the hook.

Aquino may be brought out of detention in New Jersey and flown back to the country on or before July 3, according to the US agency.

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Justice Secretary Leila de Lima described Aquino’s return to the Philippines as a step closer toward finding a closure to the November 2000 killing of public relations expert Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito.

With the former police superintendent back in government hands, the Department of Justice can start a reinvestigation of the twin slayings, De Lima said as she announced the approval of the extradition to reporters in Manila on Monday.

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“Since Aquino is a key player in the case, I would hope that he will cooperate,” the secretary said.

“I would hope that he will tell us if PAOCTF was really involved in the case,” De Lima added, referring to the now-defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force which Lacson, then chief of the Philippine National Police, headed during the Estrada administration.

Lacson, who was also tagged as a prime suspect in the case until he was cleared by the Court of Appeals in February, said he remained confident Aquino could not help the justice department rebuild its case against him, even if pressured or offered rewards.

“He has nothing to link me to the case,” Lacson said in a text message. “I don’t think Aquino will succumb to pressure and the promise of a comfortable life to the point of lying heavily just to satisfy people with ill motives against me.”

Lacson, who went into hiding for 14 months before the appellate court junked an arrest warrant issued against him by the Manila Regional Trial Court, said Aquino’s extradition was a “long time coming.”

“Even ex-Senior Supt. Aquino must welcome it and he has been expecting his return to the country to have his day in court. Being a former superior, I just hope that he will be accorded a fair trial and treatment, giving due consideration to his physical security when his place of detention is determined by the regional trial court handling his case,” the senator said.

Remains to be seen

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De Lima conceded that Aquino’s sincerity to help unmask the mastermind behind the murders “remains to be seen” because he was a coaccused in the case.

“Of course, we want to know the truth because until now it’s still unclear who was really the brains or the mastermind of this double murder case,” she said.

Unless his lawyers seek legal remedies, Aquino would be brought straight to the Manila City Jail from the airport “because he is an accused and by virtue of the warrant of arrest,” De Lima said.

“As of now, we’re not thinking of (giving him) special treatment,” she added.

‘A step forward’

Ferdinand Topacio, a lawyer for another ex-PAOCTF member and now government witness Cezar Mancao II, said Aquino’s repatriation was “a step forward in the ultimate solution” of the case.

“Aquino is a crucial piece in the puzzle. His return will make it legally possible for him to personally face the accusations against him in a court of law,” Topacio said in a statement.

“We also hope that Aquino will not succumb to external pressures and influences for him to mislead the investigation in this matter and that he will help all concerned in the mutual search for truth and justice,” Topacio said.

‘Good news’

Demetrio Custodio, a lawyer for Dacer’s children, greeted Aquino’s extradition as a piece of “good news” and “a step in the right direction.”

“We await what he is going to say,” Custodio said in a text message to the Inquirer.

But the lawyer admitted that it would be more difficult for prosecutors to again implicate Lacson if Aquino would be “able to survive the cross examination.”

Aquino fled the country in July 2001, eight months after the murders and with the investigation zeroing in on him, Lacson, and other ex-PAOCTF members under the Arroyo administration.

‘Delta’ or ‘Bero’

In an affidavit he issued while in detention in August last year, Aquino backed Lacson’s claim of innocence, saying his former boss had “no personal knowledge of special operations against any person, much less against a certain ‘Delta’ or ‘Bero.’”

“Delta” allegedly served as a code name for Dacer in the murder plot, while “Bero” referred to retired Chief Supt. Reynaldo Berroya, a known critic of Lacson and then President Joseph Estrada.

Lacson slipped back to the country on March 26, a week after the appellate court cleared him of involvement in the killings, citing weak evidence.

Surrender warrant

De Lima said US Department of Justice attaché to Manila Robert Courtney III sent a letter to Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras III informing the Philippine government that the US authorities had approved the surrender warrant for Aquino.

“It is my understanding that Michael Ray Aquino must be removed from the United States on or before July 3, 2011,” Courtney said in his letter dated June 9.

Courtney said US marshals were already facilitating the transfer of Aquino to Los Angles, California, from a detention facility in New Jersey to prepare for his extradition.

In an order dated June 7, the US state department said Aquino should be taken back to the Philippines pursuant to the extradition treaty between the two countries.

The order said the fugitive must be “committed” to Philippine law enforcement authorities after New Jersey District Court Judge Ester Salas “has found and adjudged that the evidence produced against (Aquino) is sufficient in law to justify his commitment.” With a report from TJ Burgonio

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TAGS: Dacer-Corbito double murder case, Extradition, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, prime suspect Michae Ray Aquino, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, US Department of State
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