Lacson says he was a fugitive from injustice
MANILA, Philippines—Back in the limelight after being in the shadows for over a year, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson Monday portrayed himself as a “fugitive from injustice” and denied he had hammered out a deal with the Aquino administration so he could return home.
In a press conference two days after he flew home unannounced from Hong Kong, Lacson even poured out his grievances against the administration, saying that at one point in his life as a fugitive he felt he would not be able to obtain justice even under the present government.
Lacson, who threw his support behind President Benigno Aquino III in last year’s presidential election, lamented that the supposed political alliance between him and the new leadership was only “in the papers.”
Lacson slipped out of the country early in 2010 shortly before a Manila judge ordered his arrest for his alleged role in the twin murders of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and Dacer’s driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2000.
The Court of Appeals later threw out the charges against him.
Lacson denied getting any help from the Philippine National Police—which he headed before—or from National Bureau of Investigation Director Magtanggol Gatdula, his subordinate at the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force.
“They didn’t go easy on me, I can tell you that,” he said, adding that he never even felt “I was being given a fair shake by this new administration—and that is what is more painful.”
“There was no help from the administration. The merit of the case prevailed,” he said.
He also said: “For 13 months, I was a fugitive from injustice… For 13 months I lived the life of a prisoner outside a prison cell… I had only one rule to follow. Do not get caught.”
Miscarriage of justice
In a prepared statement before he took questions, Lacson said that “there were frequent moments that I felt the persecution had never stopped even after a new administration [had taken] over the reins of power.”
“All I was asking for is a fair share of justice, correct its miscarriage and trim the excesses of the past regime,” he added.
Lacson said that on some occasions, he sent “messages” to Malacañang saying: “Don’t treat me like I was still in the old regime.”
He was particularly incensed that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima—at one point—stuck to the order for him to be captured despite a Court of Appeals ruling nullifying the arrest warrant against him.
Lacson categorically denied he had forged a deal with the Palace that led to his being cleared of criminal charges, presumably in exchange for his vote in favor of ousting Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in the forthcoming Senate impeachment trial.
“Never, never,” he said. “There’s no deal… I’m not a shoo-in judge who would vote for the (ouster) of Ombudsman Gutierrez. That much I can assure you,” he said.
“I will be guided by evidence… because I myself was a victim of the disregard of rules of evidence.”
Lacson’s return brought to 23 the number of senators in the 24-seat chamber. Prosecutors would need 16 votes to unseat Gutierrez in the impeachment trial set to begin in May.
Lacson said he would remain an “independent” in the Senate, maintaining he would never ally himself with any administration “stealing from the public coffers.”
Life in hiding
“It’s said in the papers that I’m an ally but I don’t feel it,” he said. “I’m not saying that I’m not an ally anymore… So far, I can tell you that based on what I read and hear, (the administration), especially President Aquino, is serious against corruption.”
At one point during his life as a fugitive, Lacson said that “I was ready to spend the rest of my life in hiding.” He added: “I was ready not to see my family again.”
Despite his complaints, the senator said he harbored no ill feelings against President Aquino or his (Lacson’s) detractors. What saddened him, he said, was the decision to close down his Senate office and supposedly cut the salary of his staffers because he could not sign the paperwork.
“I can tell you now. I cried my eyes out, not for me, but for my staff. Why did they have to be dragged into this?” he said.
Forgive and forget
Now cleared of the murder charges, at least, by the Court of Appeals, Lacson said he was torn between “forgiving those who persecuted me” and “seeking justice through the legal processes.”
“But I’m more inclined to just forgive and forget,” he said. But he added that “I’m not saying that I wouldn’t do [the other thing] because as I go on with my duties as a senator for the rest of my term, I also have the obligation, not just for myself, but also for our people.”
Lacson said he was willing to cooperate with the family of Dacer so long as he would not be pressured for help. “I am all heart and soul with families of victims of crimes in seeking justice for their loved ones,” he said.
He asked the Dacers to “open their eyes” and not get “fixated” with the idea that he was the one behind the 2000 murders.
Friend or foe?
Malacañang denied it was persecuting Lacson.
Told about Lacson’s complaint that he sometimes felt persecuted even by the Aquino administration and of his complaint against De Lima, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said the justice secretary had already said she was just following the legal process in pursuing the Dacer-Corbito case.
Carandang told reporters De Lima’s action would belie speculation that the Palace had a hand in the return of the senator.
He said it was public knowledge that the Aquino administration was not always on good terms with the judiciary.
“It’s not like we have the power to influence the judiciary. We’ve had many disagreements with the judiciary and I think most of the public believe that the judiciary is independent—that’s putting it mildly,” Carandang said.
Asked whether Lacson was a friend or foe of Mr. Aquino, Carandang said he knew the two men were good friends when they were both in the Senate, and added: “I don’t see any reason why that has changed.”
He also said the President had told him Lacson had not sent any message on a possible meeting between them. He said Mr. Aquino would meet “with any senator who wants to speak to him.” With a report from Christine O. Avendaño