COLUMNS: TIME TO GO TO COURT;  ON THE KURATONG BALELENG ISSUE

MANILA, OCTOBER 15, 2003  (STAR) From the start of the final chapter of the "Jose Pidal" exposé, it was clear that Sen. Panfilo Lacson was not aiming for legislation, but merely self-preservation and the downfall of a strong rival in the 2004 elections, President Arroyo. For someone aspiring for the highest post in the land, a post that will require him to respect the law, Lacson seemed ready to break it or go around it to advance a personal cause. He was clearly troubled about the prospect of arrest, and bitter about his defeat in the Supreme Court. So he argued his lost case before the Senate, and challenged SC justices to a debate.

After getting that off his chest, he gave a rehash of "The Incredible Hulk" parts 1 and 2, insisting on the validity of statements already retracted by the witness he has lost, Eduardo Mahusay. If the opposition senator does not put any weight on retractions, the nation should also disregard the retraction of government witness Ador Mawanay, who had originally accused Lacson of laundering drug money.

Failing to present a smoking gun against First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, Lacson then accused the President herself of accepting campaign donations from former Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez, and of using funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office for her campaign in 2004. Since Jimenez would not even give Lacson copies of the checks supposedly given to Mike Arroyo, it is reasonable to expect that he would not back Lacson on his allegations against the President.

That leaves Lacson with his accusations about fund misuse by the PCSO. If he truly has a strong case, he can file a graft complaint before the Ombudsman against PCSO officials and all the other people who have supposedly benefited from their closeness to the First Couple. Instead Lacson, unable to prove guilt, wants the people he has accused to prove their innocence, and even incriminate themselves.

No wonder an underwhelmed TV audience found the cadaver of Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi more interesting than the perorations of a politician fighting to keep himself out of jail. Filipinos are hardly enamored by the brothers Mike and Ignacio Arroyo. Filipinos do want to put the corrupt behind bars, and would like nothing better than to see the high and mighty be the first to be locked up. Such matters, however, are for the courts to decide. Lacson has run out of reasons to merit live TV coverage. It’s time for him to take his case to court.

New cop-witnesses took Kuratong alive GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc

The 1995 Kuratong Baleleng multiple-murder case hardly moved for four years. In March 1999, shortly after Gen. Panfilo Lacson became head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, four of five witnesses recanted their statements. Two of them were cops. SPO-4 Ed de los Reyes migrated to Canada; SPO-4 Cory de la Cruz retired to Ilocos Norte.

Most of the private complainants, relatives of the massacre victims, signed affidavits of desistance. But they disclosed to a Newsbreak magazine reporter that the accused PNP officers paid them to do so. Sr. Supt. Michael Ray Aquino, one of the indictees, allegedly typed the affidavits in a room at Copacabana hotel where they were lodged. The cash ironically was doled by Kuratong founder Renato Parojinog and then-President Estrada’s crony Atong Ang.

Leonora Soronda, sister of slain Kuratong boss Wilson Soronda, said they proceeded to the Manila City Hall to have the affidavits notarized by a fiscal. She claimed to have seen Lacson inside a waiting van.

The judge provisionally dismissed the case. Nobody cared. After all, the 11 fatalities were bank robbery suspects. For Filipinos tired of the crime wave and police ineptitude, suspicion means guilt. Left unexplained was why two minors aged 16 and 17, vacationists from Dipolog, were among those who engaged the police in a "shootout". Too, why Rolando Siplon, who was taken from his house in Alabang, lay dead on May 18, 1995 in Quezon City, while his wife Gemma Soronda, was found with two fatal stab wounds along the highway in Biñan, Laguna. And what happened to the gang’s loot of $2 million and P25 million? Answers, it seemed would never come.

But new witnesses, five of them police officers, have since come forward with fresh evidence of the events of May 1995. One of them is Insp. Ysmael Yu, head of the assault team that apprehended eight of the 11 massacre victims alive from a house in Superville Subd., Parañaque (Gotcha,13 Oct. 2003). Another is Sr. Insp. Abelardo Ramos, and this is part of his statement, translated from Filipino:

"I, Sr. Insp. Abelardo Ramos, of legal age, presently assigned to the Traffic Management Command (TMC) at Camp Crame, Quezon City, after having been duly sworn in accordance with law, depose and say that:

"(1) I have been a member of the PNP since 1991 up to present.

"(2) Around 9 p.m. of May 17, 1995 at the Special Operations Unit Limbas office, TMC chief Sr. Supt. Francisco Zubia ordered me by radio to report to Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig. I immediately complied.

"(3) I had just arrived there when Zubia again radioed me to proceed to a briefing at Chief Supt. Jewel Canson’s office in the same camp. Operation plans against the Kuratong Baleleng-Solido Group were given.

"(4) Aside from Canson and Zubia, I saw in that meeting Criminal Investigation Command Chief Supt. Romeo Acop, Task Force Habagat Chief Supt. Panfilo Lacson, Chief Insp. Erwin Villacorte, Supt. Zorobabel Laureles, and other PNP officers.

"(5) I was tasked to follow a V-150 armored personnel carrier and, with other TMC men, serve as perimeter defense around Superville Subd., Sucat, Parañaque, where the Kuratong hideout was located.

"(6) We waited for an encounter at the area, but heard no gunshots. After a while I alighted from our vehicle and walked to the house that the V-150 had entered. I remember seeing eight persons, suspected members of the Kuratong, held captive by the police assault team.

"(7) Minutes later we proceeded to Camp Crame with the eight captives and parked their two L-300 vans at the TMG motorpool. Zubia called me into his office for a second briefing. There, I again saw Lacson, Acop, Laureles, Villacortem and other PNP officers.

"(8) Zubia laid down the plan: we would drive the captives to Commonwealth Avenue and, upon descending the flyover, kill them then make it look like a shootout. It was supposedly cleared by higher-ups. Lacson nodded in assent. Before I broke from the meeting, Lacson told me, ‘Baka may mabuhay pa diyan (make sure no one survives).’

"(9) We walked to the two L-300 vans. Three of my men and I got in the first van in which four of the Superville captives were seated.

"(10) At dawn of May 18 we proceeded to Commonwealth for the planned rubout of the captives in the L-300 vans, as ordered by Lacson, Acop and Zubia.

"(11) Moments later, Sr. Insp. Glenn Dumlao arrived with his team and claimed responsibility for the supposed shootout with the Kuratong.

"(12) I was surprised to find out the next day that my name was not in the list of officers who participated in the ‘shootout’. Instead it was Dumlao who was recommended for promotion.

"(13) I execute this affidavit of my own free will, under no coercion, to attest to the truth of all the foregoing. Signed this 24th day of March 2001 in Quezon City before Notary Public Theodore O. Te."

(On Friday: Two police officers ordered to lie about the case)

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E-mail: jariusbondoc@workmail.com


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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