‘Developments’ in hunt for fugitives

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President Benigno Aquino 3rd expressed confidence that the remaining three of the “Big Five” high-profile fugitives would soon end up behind bars.

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In an interview aired over Bombo Radyo on Thursday, Aquino cited “developments” in tracking down some of the most wanted men in the country, such as former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, his brother and former Coron mayor Mario Reyes, and former Dinagat Island representative Ruben Ecleo Jr.

“[There are developments but I can’t tell you what they are],” he said.

[Because if we say, ‘Your end is near,’ they might disappear again],” the President added.

The government a few years back placed a bounty on each of what it then called the “Big Five Fugitives.”

With no arrests made yet, in August 2012 Aquino decided to increase the reward money to P2 million for each of the Big Five.

Despite the bigger bounty, the big-time fugitives remained elusive for another year–until pork barrel fund scam Janet Lim-Napoles surrendered in August 2013.

Although not considered one of the “Big Five,” Napoles was instantly considered a high-profile suspect, given that the fund scam she was allegedly masterminding was said to involve P10 billion and dragged public officials from lawmakers to ranking officials of government agencies.

Then last March, “Big Five” fugitive Delfin Lee, who is accused of using fake documents to secure billions of pesos’ worth of loans for “ghost” borrowers, was arrested by Philippine National Police Task Force Tugis outside the Hyatt Hotel in Malate, Manila.

Five months later, on August 12, retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan was captured inside a small rented room in Santa Mesa, Manila, after almost three years in hiding. He is wanted for the disappearance of two University of the Philippines students in June 2006.

The President said that authorities are pursuing other high-profile fugitives with the same resolve that led to the arrest of Palparan.

He gave assurances that his administration will find the remaining fugitives.
“[You can count on the fact that our successes in that field will continue],”Aquino said.

The Reyes brothers, wanted for the murder in January 2011 of Palawan-based broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega, slipped out of the country in March 2012, a few days before arrest warrants were issued against them.

The two reportedly flew to Vietnam, with Joel Reyes supposedly using a fake passport under the name “Joseph Lim Pe.” The brothers have since been cleared by the Court of Appeals, but the Ortega family earlier signified their intention to elevate the matter to the Supreme Court.

In 2012, Ecleo was convicted of strangling his wife in 2002, and was meted a life sentence or reclusion perpetua by a Cebu court. He was also ordered to pay P25 million in damages to the family of his late wife, Alona Bacolod-Ecleo.

Two of Alona’s siblings and her parents were massacred in their home in Mandaue City in June of the same year, believed by surviving family members to be a brutal attempt by Ecleo’s men to frighten them from testifying. They testified anyway.

Ecleo still managed to be elected congressman of Dinagat Island in 2010 but has been dropped from the rolls after his conviction for parricide and three counts of graft.

Ecleo, the leader of the Dinagat-based cult Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, is still at large and is yet to serve his sentence.

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