Lacson recounts life on the run; De Lima unamused
MANILA, Philippines—He always kept his head down, ignored people who greeted him and relied on his “instinctive compass” to avoid capture. And he always made sure he was several steps ahead of his pursuers.
That was how Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson—a fugitive for more than a year—described on Monday the precautions he said he took while living the life of a man on the run.
And he kept moving from one place to another, he said.
As Lacson regaled the media with tales about his life as a fugitive, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in a separate press conference challenged him to explain how he was able to hop from one country to another with a canceled passport, saying the senator “owes it to the country.”
She said Lacson’s ability to move without a passport challenged the integrity of government institutions which had been ordered to arrest him.
“I think he really owes it to the people to explain how he was able to transfer from one country to another because it goes into the integrity of certain processes or systems,” De Lima said.
‘Someone recognized me’
The manhunt for Lacson involved even the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).
Lacson said that at one point, despite keeping his “head down,” a fellow Filipino in a place outside the Philippines which he did not specify, recognized him.
“I knew someone recognized me,” he said in Filipino, giving no details. “Someone even wanted to take a picture with me.”
Lacson took that incident as a cue that it was time to move. A former Philippine National Police chief, he was careful not to talk much about his whereabouts then.
What emerged from the account he gave Monday was that the combined resources of the Philippine government—backed by the Interpol—seemed, on the surface, to be no match to his elusive ways, a skill he attributed to his law enforcement training and “the best of my instinctive compass.”
“When someone would greet me, I wouldn’t greet him back,” Lacson said at a jampacked press conference marking his first appearance at the Senate.
“When someone would see me, I would just bow my head… There were instances (when I had close calls). (But) it pays to be one, two, three steps ahead all the time. You need to use your instincts,” he said.
Lacson also got help from friends who, he said, provided him with food, shelter and other resources. He declined to identify these people, saying he wanted to “protect those who cared for me.”
“It was a day-to-day struggle,” he said. “It was really difficult. It was hard to be away from friends, from your family. And you didn’t know who your real friends were.”
One friend was generous enough to provide him with a safe house complete with an Internet connection, which Lacson said allowed him to stay in touch with his family and monitor what was going on in the Philippines.
Lacson also had with him the company of e-books, such as Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” which deals with military strategies.
‘Señorito’ no more
Lacson said his life as a fugitive “had a big impact on my outlook in life.”
“Sometimes while I was chatting with my child [on the phone], I had to tell him, ‘I have to go because I still have to wash the dishes. BRB (be right back).’”
Lacson said his life on the lam required a kind of discipline “1,000 times” more rigorous than during his cadetship training and during his stint as national police chief under the Estrada administration.
“I couldn’t act like a señorito. I wasn’t a senator (in my host’s house). I was just someone who needed a place to stay,” he said.
While waiting for a chance to return to the Philippines, he said he learned to cook such dishes as embotido, afritada, adobo, sinigang, empanada—all courtesy of Google. He learned how to cook rice and bake pan de sal, too, he said.
“I was cooking for myself,” he said. “If you want, I could cook for you.”
Hiding from the law also visibly benefited him. Lacson, who had avoided the media since flying in on Saturday, showed up at the Senate with a fairer, healthier look.
“I didn’t see much sunlight. I was always inside the house,” he explained.
Call from De Lima
Lacson said he spent Saturday strictly in the company of loved ones. On arriving home, he played with his grandchildren. He visited the grave of his parents on Sunday, heard Mass and had a quiet dinner with his family.
“I thought it was the best day of my life with my family because it was a quiet weekend,” he said. “It felt like Christmas in March.”
De Lima noted that while Lacson was on the run, the Department of Foreign Affairs had canceled his passport.
“If he moved from [one country to another], how did he do it? It was already beyond the senator. It’s the integrity of the processes, of the systems, of institutions (and) we are supposed to be guided by them,” De Lima said.
De Lima expressed hope that Lacson would not construe her statements as “further persecution,” saying she was a non-political person who does not belong to any political party.
De Lima stressed that even if Lacson felt he was a victim of injustice, he still “owed it to the country” to explain where he was for more than a year because he was a “duly elected senator.”
De Lima said Lacson should also “understand… the perspective of the Department of Justice” when she said she intended to pursue the case involving the 2000 double murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver.
The justice department’s “perspective,” she said, was “always based on the rule of law.”
The Philippine National Police strongly denied any of its officials had connived with Lacson to keep him from being arrested while he was in hiding.
“The PNP does not connive with anyone. Connivance is not the PNP’s business,” PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz said at Monday’s Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel.
Cruz attributed the PNP’s inability to locate Lacson to the “slightly weak coverage” of its intelligence operatives in tracking down fugitives abroad for lack of sufficient funding.
“We only rely on the Interpol. Our police attachés have very limited coverage,” he said.
In Lacson’s case, Cruz said: “We cannot say outright that our police intelligence failed. It’s just their efforts were not enough. If the Interpol itself was not successful in finding him, how can you expect our intelligence personnel to track him down?”
Cruz also said that what needed to be investigated was how Lacson was able to travel from Hong Kong to other places with his regular and diplomatic passports already canceled. With a report from Jeannette I. Andrade