MALACAÑANG on Wednesday brushed off Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson’s accusations of harassment, branding his fear for life and safety as a mere “suspicion.”

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the executive branch is “not that callous” to do harm against Lacson, following the senator’s claim that Malacanang’s harassment against him was the reason he fled the country.

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“Well, I’m saying that at the least it is just like a suspicion -- feeling lang niya ‘yon. But hindi naman siguro. (it is just his feeling. But I don’t think so),” Ermita said.

Lacson cited in a statement that he feared for his safety and security if he will be arrested for Dacer-Corbito double murder case, which was why he decided to flee the country.

The opposition senator said he has been a victim of conspiracy between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies in the Department of Justice (DOJ) in revenge to his exposes and scandals against the present administration.

Lacson is a known critic of the administration publicizing scandals against the Arroyo government such as Jose Pidal scandal, issue of jueteng, payola, Hello Garci, cheating controversy, ZTE and fertilizer scams, among others.

“Have you ever seen a case before who had been saying a lot against the administration, who had been physically threatened? Wala naman. Overall, all these nine years of the Arroyo administration, no one had been given such a threat or made to feel that, ‘I’m being stalked’?” Ermita asked.

Downplaying Lacson’s fear, Ermita said they have no intention to hurt Lacson or anyone who have criticized the government and they will be fair in treating possible charges to be filed against the senator.

“I can assure you that as far as treatment of the good senator is concerned, he will be treated very, very fairly and his security and safety will be assured,” he said.

The Palace official also denied Malacañang involvement in the case of Lacson, saying activities of the DOJ will be in consonance with the basic legal processes following the rule of law.

“It’s not correct to say that this is being done because somebody is being singled out because of anything else before that. Some are saying there seems to be persecution and a focus on trying to pin him down—I don’t think that’s correct,” he furthered.

Ermita said if Lacson believes that he is not guilty, it is better if he goes back to the country and face the music. “I suppose. I think he should do that, lalo sigurong mapapatunayan na wala naman siyang dapat itago or ipag-alala. (it will prove that he is not hiding anything or he has nothing to worry about).”

Despite escaping the looming charges against him, Ermita said he would still want to give the benefit of the doubt to Lacson as reason why he fled the country.

“Given his background, as you know, he has been the chief of constabulary, and so, I would like to give him the benefit of really knowing what he’s doing as a responsible citizen, as a responsible public official,” Ermita said.

He added that they will leave the final action to the Manila Regional Trial Court about the decision on the case of Lacson.

Ermita, meanwhile, echoed the judgment of the DOJ of not considering Lacson as fugitive yet. “He is hardly a fugitive since legally, no charges or, rather, no warrant had been issued by the court.”

Asked if Lacson has wherewithal to go places abroad and spend months outside the country, Ermita assumed that the senator and former police chief has the “capacity to do what he could do.”

By the time arrest warrant will be ready for the senator, Ermita said they are confident that Lacson will get it.

“Should that happen, then there are different ways of trying to reach out to the subject of the warrant of arrest. If we have an extradition—we don’t even know where the good senator is— but, we can resort to the extradition treaty if we have one in the country where he might be. Number two, the long arm of the law can be made to reach out to him through our connections through what we call the Interpol connections of the Philippine government. And then, we have this legal assistance agreement with some countries,” he explained.

Initial reports claimed that Lacson flew to Hong Kong on January 5, and from there, went to Australia. The senator is allegedly involved in the November 24, 2000 murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and driver Emmanuel Corbito, which he repeatedly denied.

Devanadera’s reaction

Lacson earlier admitted that he has left the country lest he become a victim of an “evil conspiracy between President Arroyo and her stooge in the DOJ.”

Speaking to reporters, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said the filing of murder charges against Lacson is the result of a regular preliminary investigation wherein he was given ample opportunity to answer the allegations against him.

“Sino ba ang tinutukoy niya sa DOJ? Ako ba iyon, pwede ko ba siya ma-harass? He was given all the opportunities to be heard. In fact, Senator Lacson raised the issue of whether or not the DOJ has authority to proceed with the preliminary investigation, and the Court of Appeals decided and affirmed the authority of the DOJ to continue with it,” she said.

Devanadera said that with all the legal remedies available to him, Lacson really had no reason to complain.

“Now that the case is filed in court, courts are not under the jurisdiction or authority of the executive branch and therefore any allegation of harassment will not hold water. He has to prove his innocence in court and he is not prevented from availing of all the opportunities. Right now, hindi ko alam kung bakit siya umalis. Maybe he should be the one to explain further kung bakit siya umalis,” she added.

The DOJ chief also said she is still waiting if Manila regional trial court Judge Myra Fernandez will issue an arrest warrant against Lacson, adding that law enforcement agencies will exert all legal measures to bring back Lacson once a warrant has been issued by the court for his arrest.

Devanadera expressed hope that the government will not have to make use of extraordinary means, like the extradition, in order to bring him to the arms of the law.

“To Senator Lacson, you have been elected by our people as senator… we hope that you will face these charges so that your defense can be heard. Wag natin paubutin sa di magandang pangyayari, katulad ng kailangan pa bang implement natin ang isang extradition para lang kayo ay humarap sa mga usaping ito. I believe you’re honorable enough to face the charges in court and defend yourself,” she told the senator.

Meanwhile, former Police Senior Superintendent Cezar Mancao II appealed to Lacson to submit himself to judicial processes in proving his innocence, instead of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the courts.

“The best way to prove his innocence is through the instrumentality of the courts, which under Philippine Laws, incorporates numerous safeguards in favor of the accused. Flight has been, universally and since time immemorial, been considered an indicator of guilt, even if one tries to justify it with allegations of persecution or harassment,” Mancao said through his lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio.

Among the evidence considered by the DOJ prosecution panel in indicting Lacson were the testimonies and affidavits of Mancao and fellow former policeman, Glenn Dumlao.

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, the DOJ said. (Jill Beltran/JCV/Sunnex)