GMA HIGHLY SUSPECTS INDON TERRORIST ESCAPE WAS INSIDE JOB

Iloilo, July 16, 2003 By JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR (MALAYA) President Arroyo said yesterday she highly suspects that the escape of Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi and two other suspected Abu Sayyaf members was an inside job.

Arroyo, during her visit in Alimodian, Iloilo yesterday, said she found it unbelievable the escape was due to laxity on the part of the police or the custodians.

Al-Ghozi, self-confessed member of the Jemaah Islamiah who was sentenced for 12 years for the Rizal Day bombing in 2002, and suspected Abu Sayyaf members Abdulmukim Edris and Meram Abante, escaped from the detention center of the PNP-Intelligence Group in Camp Crame Monday morning.

"Camp Crame is gaining notoriety for its very porous detention centers, and it is becoming hard to believe that these escapes of heinous criminals are the result of ordinary laxity. We must pin the culprits down and find a permanent solution to this problem," Arroyo said.

PNP chief Hermogenes Ebdane, who has issued a shoot-to-kill order on the escapees, said it was "not good" for a policeman to speculate but he was not discounting the possibility that "money changed hands."

Ebdane warned police personnel if they were involved in the escape. "Pasensiyahan na lang kung may lalabas na ganyan," he said.

Ebdane said the fugitives could have been aided by "someone from inside" but he declined to name names pending results of investigations by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

He said there were no signs of external damage to the perimeter fences of the detention cell and this could indicate the fugitives used the main door of the PNP-IG.

The three were said to have escaped between 10 p.m. Sunday and 5 a.m. on Monday.

He said that the padlocks used in the detention cells were "class A" and its keys cannot be duplicated nor the lock itself be forced open.

"My impression is that one cannot get out without the assistance from the outside who will open the padlocks ... Merong kailangang magbukas ng padlock sa labas para makalabas sa detention cells," Ebdane said.

"Personally, I believe that money changed hands ... but our main thrust right now is to account them (fugitives)," he said.

CIDG chief Eduardo Matillano said: "It appears that the escapees had keys because the padlocks were left intact."

He quoted Mark Gumbahe, the detainee left at the cell, as saying said the escapees were frequently talking but he could not understand what they were saying because they were talking in a dialect he could not understand. Police it could probably be Yakan.

He said the three could have exited the door of the IG and climbed the fence of the camp.

There are no indications that someone outside Camp Crame in a vehicle, was waiting to fetch the three, Matillano added.

"There seems to be negligence on the parts of the guards on head-counting which is supposed to be done every hour. Lumalabas na sa paper lang ang bilang and walang actual physical count," he said.

Matillano said the guards on duty are set to undergo lie detector tests. He said fingerprints were also lifted from the two padlocks of the cells at the old IG building where the escapees were detained.

Arroyo ordered Interior Secretary Jose Lina to put up a single maximum security detention facility in Camp Crame "for high profile detainees" and ordered that be directly responsible for the new facility.

"I am (also) directing Lina to make full use of the media to generate public support for the ongoing manhunt, with widest dissemination of rewards," she said.

The government has offered a P5 million bounty for the recapture of Al Ghozi, P2 million for Edris and P1 million for Abante.

Lina was also tasked to implement Arroyo's other directives, which include the immediate filing of charges against the custodians of the escapees and other PNP officers "up to the highest level of command responsibility practicable."

Ebdane said Arroyo scolded him for the escape.

"Down-hearted sila (Malacaņang) and siyempre di maaalis na pinagalitan tayo," he said.

Ebdane issued an apology and said he was willing to quit.

"Gusto kong magpaumanhin sa mamamayang Pilipino sa pagtakas ng tatlong ito dahil na rin sa kapalpakan ng ilan nating kasama ... I am taking full responsibility for all these things but first I want to know what really happened and I would like to pinpoint the people behind this ... Kung talagang responsible tayo then we must be part of the group that must go," he said.

On calls by lawmakers for his resignation, Ebdane said: "I don't think my resignation would be the solution to this problem."

Sen. Manuel Villar said: "I don't think they (the police) are that incompetent to just allow this to happen. So it is possible that this escape was scripted from the very start."

He said an "influential" group from Indonesia could have worked for the "release" of Al-Ghozi. "Itong si Al-Ghozi ay hinihingi ng iba't-ibang grupo sa Indonesia na mapawalan at ibalik sa Indonesia. May posibilidad na ito ay ginawa din bilang kahilingan ng karatig na bansa," Villar said.

Sen. Robert Jaworski said while money "could be a major consideration," sympathizers in inside law enforcement agencies could have helped Al-Ghozi escape.

"No one will ever take the risk of helping a notorious terrorist like Al-Ghozi bolt his tightly-secured cell unless he believes in the cause of the suspect," he added.

Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. said if the PNP cannot recapture the escapees within 72 hours, Ebdane must resign.

"The Filipino people are sick and tired of watching terrorist after terrorist escape ... any punishment must go far beyond a slap on the wrist. Heads must roll," he said.

Reps. Jun Lozada (Lakas, Negros Occidental) said Arroyo should seriously consider a top-to-bottom reorganization of the PNP. "Today, our police force is a laughing stock of the nation and the international community," he said.

Rep. Ted Failon (Ind., Leyte) said Al-Ghozi should be captured alive so that he can unlock the truth behind the high-profile breakouts from Camp Crame.

"I don't believe that they can pull off a getaway without the help of some insiders. The smell of conspiracy is all over Camp Crame and we think someone is manipulating all these," he Leyte said. (With Raymond Africa, Wendell Vigilia, JP Lopez and Dennis Gadil)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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