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Editorial

In plain sight

/ 12:11 AM March 10, 2014

So, as it turns out, fugitive businessman Delfin Lee was hiding in plain sight. Despite a P2-million reward offered since August 2012, one of the country’s most wanted men continued to live, more or less, like a free man, or at least like a man who had nothing to fear from the authorities. To be sure, he kept a lower profile, but he lived a life that can be fairly described as regular: staying with his live-in partner, showing up for meetings in hotels, moving about Metro Manila.

According to an Inquirer source, however, it was his way of moving about that led to his arrest. He used the expensive vehicles registered under his mistress’ name; once police pursuers identified his partner, it was only a matter of time (and not a little luck) before they caught up with him.

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Lee, the owner of controversial property developer Globe Asiatique Realty Holdings Corp., went into hiding in May 2012, when an arrest warrant was issued against him and four others, including his son, for syndicated estafa. He was alleged to have masterminded an elaborate scheme defrauding the Home Development Mutual Fund (the Pag-Ibig Fund) of some P7 billion from 2008 to 2011. In August 2012, he was included in a list of five notorious fugitives on whom the Aquino administration placed a P2-million “bounty” each: the others were a retired general (Jovito Palparan), former Palawan politicians Joel and Mario Reyes, and cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr.

Lee’s arrest raises the public’s hopes that the others would fall into the authorities’ hands too. The fate of

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Palparan, in particular, is of distinct importance, because of his alleged role in the spree of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances that marred the second half of the Arroyo administration.

The circumstances that led to Lee’s arrest, however, suggest a way to finally capture the country’s most wanted—and also a reason why Palparan, Ecleo and the Reyes brothers continue to evade the long arm of the law.

In reporter Marlon Ramos’ account (based on an interview with the Inquirer source) of how the police finally captured Lee, we find hard work wedded to common sense. Part of the story quotes the source, a police official involved in the manhunt.

“His biggest mistake? The high-end vehicles he was using were all registered under the name of his 41-year-old live-in partner with whom he has three children, the source said. ‘We really started from scratch in our task to locate and arrest him,’ said the police official …. ‘We got a big break when we were able to determine the identity of Mr. Lee’s live-in partner sometime in December.’”

The police eventually traced the vehicles registered

under the partner’s name, then tracked their use over the last three months. Last Thursday, Lee used one of those vehicles to go to a meeting at the Hyatt Regency; it was there, after a meeting with his lawyer, where he was finally arrested.

This account shows sheer dogged determination need not remain a mere cliché, and that police intelligence need not be what it is sometimes portrayed in the movies, as an obvious contradiction in terms.

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What Task Force Tugis displayed gives the public good reason to hope that similar doggedness and the same street smarts can be used to track down the other most-wanted fugitives. One down, four to go?

At the same time, we also all need to ask ourselves: How did Lee manage to live an almost normal life,

despite an entire government looking for him? The

answer must be: Because not everyone in the government was looking for him. Or, rather, some in the law enforcement agencies must have extended Lee a helping hand, or looked the other way. Indeed, Lee may be asking himself the same question, but seen from the other side: Who betrayed him?

The members of Task Force Tugis deserve all the commendations that come their way. May the same combination of hard work and common sense, and dedication to the public interest, lead to more arrests, more captured fugitives, in the future.

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