JUSTICE Secretary Agnes Devanadera said Tuesday that Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson is not yet considered a fugitive even though his name has been placed in the Bureau of Immigration’s (BI) watchlist.

In a press briefing, Devanadera said Lacson has been included in the BI’s watchlist since the filing last January 8 of an Information for two counts of murder against him in connection with the November 2000 killing of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito.

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The BI watchlist shall be valid for 60 days, unless sooner terminated or extended.

State prosecutors earlier found probable cause to indict Lacson for the Dacer-Corbito murders and filed charges against him before the Manila regional trial court.

Devanadera said the Manila court is likely to come out with a ruling this week whether there is probable cause and to issue a warrant for Lacson’s arrest, after which, law enforcement agencies are expected to enforce the order of arrest.

“Senator Lacson has been placed under the BI’s watchlist, as soon as the case was filed, not knowing that two days before (the filing of the case), he already left. No warrant of arrest has yet been issued, but we don’t see any reason why it should not be issued (by the Manila RTC). Right now, he is not yet a fugitive, he’s still a tourist,” said Devanadera.

Based on records provided by the DOJ, Lacson left the country on January 5, 2010, or two days before the murder case was filed, aboard CX-904 bound for Hong Kong. He has not come back since and has been considered absent in the Senate.

In his blogging site, Lacson said that his main concern is his personal safety and security, especially since the Arroyo administration seemed intent on persecuting him.

“I will not allow Mrs. Arroyo and her cohorts in the DOJ the pleasure of seeing my life miserable and in danger. This is one case that I will dispute the argument ‘flight is an indication of guilt.’ I am not guilty, but I cannot risk putting my life and security at the mercy of that evil conspiracy,” he said.

In its resolution, the DOJ panel led by Senior State Prosecutor Peter Ong found probable cause to charge Lacson based on the positive testimony of witnesses and physical evidence gathered by the National Bureau of Investigation.

No bail was recommended for Lacson’s provisional liberty, but the panel said it is up to the court to decide whether or not to issue a warrant of arrest. The crime carries with it a penalty of not less than six years.

Among the evidence considered by the panel were the testimonies and affidavits of former policemen Cezar Mancao II and Glenn Dumlao, and those of alleged henchmen Willy Cabugin, William Lopez and Alex Loy who admitted to having participated in the abduction and setting to fire of the bodies of Dacer and Corbito.

Mancao and Dumlao, former members of the now-defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force previously headed by Lacson, have been enrolled in the DOJ’s Witness Protection Program. The Manila RTC however has yet to rule on the motion of the prosecution to discharge Mancao as respondent.

The DOJ also gave weight to the samples of the charred body recovered by the NBI in Cavite, believed to be that of Dacer and Corbito; Dacer’s dental plates, and the post- and ante-mortem report of forensic expert, Dr. Raquel Fortun.

The panel turned down Lacson’s defense of alibi and cry of alleged political persecution due to his being critical of the Arroyo administration.

Ong said that Mancao’s statement that he was present when Lacson gave out the order to kill Dacer is more believable than the senator’s assertion that he was out of the country at the time when he supposedly issued such order.

To refute Mancao’s allegations, Lacson claimed that he and several other Cabinet officials, including then Trade Secretary, Senator Mar Roxas, were part of former President Joseph Estrada’s entourage in the United States attending a UN Summit.

But prosecutors pointed out that travel documents presented by Lacson’s camp showed that their US trip was from September 4 to September 13, 2000. Thus, it is not improbable that the alleged order of Lacson to another former PAOCTF officer, Michael Rey Aquino, to supposedly kill Dacer, took place in October.

The murder charges were filed based on the complaint filed by the four daughters of Dacer – Carina Lim, Sabina Reyes, Emily Hungerford, and Amparo Henson – following the execution of the February 14, 2009 affidavit of Mancao while he was still undergoing extradition from the United States.

In his affidavit, Mancao tagged Lacson as the mastermind in the killings, saying he was present in the car when Lacson, then PNP chief and head of PAOCTF, gave out his order for another accused Michael Ray Aquino to implement “Operation Delta,” referring to Dacer, sometime October 2000.

Mancao reiterated this during his testimony before a hearing of the Manila RTC, which has a different batch of respondents for the same crime.

Lacson was not included in the first batch as there was no evidence yet at that time linking him to the Dacer-Corbito murders.

The Dacer children likewise sought to file an amended complaint before the DOJ to include the name of former President Joseph Estrada as respondent. (JCV/Sunnex)