Editorial

Big-shot fugitives

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The ridiculousness of it all is mind-boggling. Reports say former police officer Cezar O. Mancao II, who was being held at the National Bureau of Investigation in connection with the 2000 murders of Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and Dacer’s driver Emmanuel Corbito, escaped from his NBI detention cell last Thursday by walking out of his cell alone.

The act was captured on a CCTV camera. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima then called Mancao directly to personally confirm with him that he had indeed bolted. (“Yes, ma’am,” was Mancao’s polite reply.) And, in the wake of another purported massive manhunt launched to locate the latest high-profile fugitive, Mancao was still able to grant phone interviews to TV stations—10 hours after he ambled out of the NBI.

“Heads will roll,” said NBI director Mariano Rojas following this latest embarrassment. The ordinary citizen on the street has the perfect riposte by now to such pro-forma promises: “Weh?”

With his seemingly effortless flight from jail, Mancao joins an elite list of the Philippines’ most-wanted—the “Big 5,” as the Philippine National Police calls them: Joel Reyes, former governor of Palawan, and his brother, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes; retired Brigadier General Jovito Palparan; Ruben Ecleo Jr., a former representative of Dinagat Island; and Globe Asiatique owner Delfin Lee.

If Mancao is seeing their cases as a template for his own flight from the law, then he can very well relax and take it easy underground. Months or even years after their arrest had been decreed by the courts, none of these fugitives have come close to being apprehended by the police. The PNP can’t even be sure whether the Reyes brothers, for instance, who are wanted for the murder of Palawan broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega, are still in the country or are now in Bangkok, to where they had allegedly fled using fake passports.

There is video evidence showing that Joel Reyes passed through an immigration counter at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, escorted by two immigration officers. Despite this, Chief Supt. Francisco Uyami Jr., the head of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, insists that “the Reyes brothers are still here. Until we have convincing evidence to prove that they have left the country, we believe they’re still here.” Their belief, added Uyami, is based on “probabilities and hunch.”

“Until we have convincing evidence…” The former governor hightailed it out of the Naia in August 2012, or a good nine months ago. What is Uyami saying but that nothing has come out of the purported inquiry into the actions of the immigration personnel who sneaked Reyes out of the airport, or that no follow-up has been done on an eyewitness tip that the fugitive brothers are living under assumed names in the Thai capital? What “convincing evidence” will come the CIDG’s way when it doesn’t seem to be interested in digging up any?

Palparan is an even more egregious case. The warrant for his arrest was issued in December 2011; one year and five months later, the PNP and the military continue to profess ignorance about his whereabouts, despite their formidable manpower and billion-peso intelligence budgets. Ditto with Ecleo, who is wanted for killing his wife, Alona Bacolod-Ecleo, in 2002. The April 2012 warrant for his arrest remains unserved, and if the police’s stony silence is any indication, the former legislator seems safely ensconced wherever he is—a fate that the Globe Asiatique owner, Lee, wanted since May 2012, also appears to enjoy at the moment.

What do these high-profile individuals have in common? They are all powerful, moneyed and well-connected, with friends in the highest levels of the government and society to provide them safety and security while on the lam. Doubtless, Mancao, once a highly placed police officer, will turn to his old friends in the service for protection and succor. If he is not apprehended soon, the PNP, CIDG and justice department can just as well give up the pretense and proceed to revise their list from the “Big 5” to the “Big 6.”

At this point, heads on the chopping block are no longer enough. That should have happened long ago, with Palparan et al.’s continuing ability to hoodwink law-enforcement authorities. If Malacañang is truly serious about good governance, it would have done all it could by now to haul in any one of these big-shot fugitives. The country is still waiting, and its patience is growing thinner by the minute.

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