Malacanang, July 24, 2003 (Star) President Arroyo ordered yesterday Philippine National Police (PNP) officials helping in the investigation of the escape of convicted Indonesian bomber Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi to focus on their work instead of talking.

"All PNP units must concentrate on the job at hand and refrain from engaging in the rumor mill," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo called the attention of PNP chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. to the series of public statements made by police officials surrounding the investigation of the escape.

She ordered Ebdane to coordinate police efforts with the three-man fact-finding committee headed by former justice secretary Sedfrey Ordoñez for a "unified system" of issuing official statements related to the ongoing investigation.

"Since the (Ordoñez) commission has officially begun its work, it must be at the forefront of the public information aspect of this case," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She said the PNP and the commission should find ways to come out with official statements "in a manner that will not prejudice ongoing operations."

The President expressed her dismay over the numerous statements by several PNP officials over the investigation into the case.

"Let us allow the fact-finding commission (to) sift through all the facts and allegations and come up with its own judicious findings and recommendations," Mrs. Arroyo said. "Speculations will get us nowhere and we’ll play into the hands of the enemy by fragmenting our efforts."

Mrs. Arroyo reassured all investigations made by the committee over the escape would be made transparent.

The escape caused international furor much to the embarrassment of the Philippine government and Mrs. Arroyo.

Police incompetence and corruption have been blamed for the embarrassing escape of Al-Ghozi, a bomb-maker for the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) — the Southeast Asian chapter of the al-Qaeda terror network.

Mrs. Arroyo has set up the Ordoñez commission to look into the circumstances under which Al-Ghozi bolted the PNP-Intelligence Group headquarters last July 14. She has warned that those found responsible would be severely punished.

Angered by the jailbreak, Mrs. Arroyo warned of a top-to-bottom revamp of the PNP and gave Ebdane one last chance to redeem himself by personally undertaking the recapture of one of Southeast Asia’s known terrorists.

Criminal charges have been filed against several police officers while investigators are still trying to solve the puzzle of how Al-Ghozi was able walk out from the PNP headquarters undeterred.

At the rate things are going, Leyte Rep. Ted Failon claimed Al-Ghozi may have fled the country while police officials assigned to track him down "cannot get their act together" because of politics.

Failon said the inability of the PNP to locate Al-Ghozi was largely caused by their preoccupation of "playing dirty politics among themselves."

"Suggestions that politics has something to do with the escape of Al-Ghozi would only keep our PNP officials out of focus in their effort to recapture him," Failon said.

Failon also demanded the immediate resignation of Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief Director Eduardo Matillano.

"Matillano’s personal grudge with Sen. Panfilo Lacson is obviously getting in the way for the CIDG to be able to conduct an objective investigation of the Al-Ghozi incident," he said.

Matillano and Lacson have been trading barbs over insinuations that the protégés of the opposition senator in the PNP might have had a hand in the escape.

One of the police officials linked to Lacson, Superintendent Reuben Galban, has been under fire following the escape.

Galban, chief of the PNP-Intelligence Group’s Foreign Intelligence Liaison Office (FILO), was earlier reported to have booked a Northwest Airlines flight to the United States in an apparent attempt to escape responsibility on the ongoing investigation.

Although Galban denied evading responsibility, his photos and personal information have been posted at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) counters at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Sources told The STAR that the PNP-Aviation Security Group (ASG) requested the alert.

A source also disclosed no hold departure order has been issued against Galban.

The ASG, headed by Senior Superintendent Valiant de Guzman, however, refused to comment on the issue citing "security reasons."

Meanwhile, the Manila Regional Trial Court issued a warrant for Al-Ghozi’s arrest for his failure to attend his arraignment yesterday.

Al-Ghozi is facing trial together with suspected terrorist Saifullah "Muklis" Yunos and nine others over the Dec. 30, 2000 bombings which left 22 people dead.

The Indonesian bomber, earlier convicted for 17 years for illegal possession of explosives, was supposed to enter his plea for his involvement in the Rizal Day bombings.

In the arrest order, Manila RTC Branch 54 Judge Lucia Purugganan directed law enforcement agencies to arrest Al-Ghozi for multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder.

Also named subject of the arrest warrant were Abubakar Befana Faiz, Alim Pangalian, Isamuddin Riduan, Zainal Paks, Salman Moro, Ustad Said and Mohamad Amid.

State prosecutor Peter Ong earlier said the arraignment of Al-Ghozi has been reset to Aug. 20, which will coincide with the pre-trial of Yunos, the principal suspect in the bombings. Yunos had pleaded guilty to the charges.

Following the escape of Al-Ghozi, the PNP had tightened security over Yunos and other high-profile detainees in Camp Crame.

Lying low

There have intelligence reports indicating Al-Ghozi is still in the country, according to sources.

Immigration records also indicate Al-Ghozi has not left the country despite the 12-hour headstart he had after bolting his detention cell.

"As of this morning (yesterday) the information is Al-Ghozi is still here," a highly placed source told The STAR.

It was also learned that National Security Adviser Roilo Golez reportedly issued a gag order on all officials helping in the manhunt for Al-Ghozi. Golez reportedly gave instructions that all media inquiries to be channeled to his office.

The STAR was informed of the gag order while trying to reach BI Commissioner Andrea Domingo for an update on the search for the fugitive terrorist.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have reportedly intensified their port securities while Vietnam has asked for more information on Al-Ghozi.

"Definitely, Al-Ghozi will not use the proper ports anymore but if he will use the ‘southern backdoor’ we will still know about it," the source said.

Considering the international furor generated by Al-Ghozi’s escape, his arrival in the neighboring countries will be immediately known.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, said Indonesia and the Philippines agreed to help each other recapture Al-Ghozi, who admitted to having plotted a bombing campaign in Singapore.

Foreign Secretary Blas Ople and his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda met on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe ministerial meeting in Bali, and Wirayuda offered help to recapture the escaped Indonesian convict.

"I told Minister Wirayuda that we appreciate the offer of assistance. He also told me that should Al-Ghozi make the mistake of going to Indonesia, Al-Ghozi will be promptly arrested so he can answer for his crimes," Ople said in the statement released in Manila.

"The (Indonesian) foreign minister also reiterated the confidence... in our ability, sincerity, and determination to fight terrorism, in spite of the recent escape of Al-Ghozi. We continue to work together by exchanging information and by other means to fight terror," he said. - With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jose Aravilla, Sandy Araneta, Jerry Botial, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved