Cezar Mancao’s embarrassingly easy escape from the National Bureau of Investigation has put the spotlight back on the country’s porous detention facilities. Would that some of the public attention also fall on the continuing failure of the country’s justice system to do right by the murder victims Bubby Dacer and Emmanuel Corbito.
Dacer, a prominent publicist, and Corbito, his driver, were abducted in plain sight in late 2000. Their remains were later found in Cavite; according to two farmers who came out as witnesses, the victims’ bodies were set on fire after they had been strangled to death.
From the start, suspicion fell on highly placed members of the Estrada administration. Joseph Estrada, who was facing impeachment charges at the time, said he and
Dacer were close friends; he was cleared by Justice Secretary Nani Perez. In May 2001, the first charges in the case were filed against 22 men, including 13 police officers led by Glenn Dumlao of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF). Dumlao implicated police colonels Michael Ray Aquino and Mancao, and said both Estrada and national police chief and PAOCTF commander Panfilo Lacson may have known of the crime.
In time, all three of Lacson’s aides fled to the United States.
In 2009, Mancao executed an affidavit alleging that Lacson was the mastermind of the killings. (He has stuck to his testimony even after the Court of Appeals found the inconsistencies in it rendered him an unreliable witness.) He returned to the Philippines, as did Aquino and Dumlao.
Fast forward a few years, and we find ourselves exactly nowhere.
In 2010—or a little over nine years since executing an affidavit claiming that both Estrada and Lacson may have known of the crime—Dumlao “stood his ground” in court, refused to follow what he said was a script prepared by the Arroyo administration’s Department of Justice, and testified that Lacson was innocent. Dumlao is no longer an accused.
In 2011, Lacson himself was cleared by the Court of Appeals, which found there was no probable cause to warrant the filing of a case against him.
In 2012, the case against Aquino was dropped too, for lack of evidence.
And in 2013, after an unsuccessful (and constitutionally dubious) second run for the presidency, Estrada is back in political harness, running for mayor of Manila.
The number of witnesses or suspects who have died since the double murder was perpetrated has yet to be added together, but the list includes another top PAOCTF officer, Teofilo Viña.
As for Mancao? Apparently—to go by his effusive explanations in various recent interviews, conducted while on the lam—the most important item on his personal agenda is to get Lacson off his back. We do not mean to be facetious; Mancao thinks that Lacson is out to kill him. So his pursuit of some kind of understanding with Lacson is in dead earnest.
Passages from a telephone interview with the Inquirer are worth quoting at some length:
“I talked to everyone whom I believed could help me. Even my mother, who is already old, went to the Senate and talked to him,” Mancao said, referring to Lacson.
“I talked to his brother, Tata Romy, his son who is a candidate for public office in Cavite, his classmates, everyone whom I thought could help. But he ignored them all.”
“… [All] of my efforts were rejected. He ignored me, and never granted my request to talk to him.”
To which the reasonable reply is: What did you expect?
Having named Lacson as the mastermind of the Dacer-Corbito double-murder, did he expect his mentor in the arcane art of elite police work to simply forget? This does not look like the conduct of a man who wants the truth about the Dacer-Corbito murders to be known at all costs.
Now he wants to follow Lacson’s tack and hide from the authorities until proven innocent. “Just like Ping Lacson, I will not surrender,” Mancao said. Lacson had gone into hiding in 2010, but resurfaced in 2011 after the Court of Appeals cleared him.
In the meantime, justice for Dacer and Corbito remains just out of reach. We hope that the case, the subject of sensational testimony at Estrada’s impeachment trial, won’t suffer from the benign neglect that only an administration friendly to some of the former suspects can give.