By Van C. Suarez, Catherine S. Valente Reporters and Jomar Canlas Senior Reporter
FORMER police sr. supt. Cezar Mancao, an accused in the sensational November 2000 double murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito, escaped from detention at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) before dawn on Thursday.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said two NBI security personnel who are believed to have aided the escape are now undergoing investigation and will face administrative and criminal charges.
She said the escape was recorded by the bureau’s closed circuit television where Mancao was seen leaving his cell alone, carrying a bag at around 1:14 a.m. and walking straight through the NBI gates unnoticed, to a waiting vehicle.
A note found inside Mancao’s cell reads: “Please do not remove my things without proper inventory. I am just a victim of injustice here. Thanks. Cezar Mancao.”
“I have talked to him over the phone and I told him to surrender within 24 hours or else a full manhunt operation will be launched against him,” de Lima said.
“He told me he escaped because he fears for his life if he is transferred to Manila City Jail,” de Lima added.
Mancao was supposed to be transferred to the Manila City Jail also on Thursday after the Manila Regional Trial Court on April 30 ordered him moved from the NBI detention center.
Mancao was in the custody of the NBI after he was dropped by the Justice department last year as state witness in the double murder case after the Supreme Court affirmed a Court of Appeals ruling that dismissed his credibility as a witness.
In Malacañang, President Benigno Aquino 3rd wanted those responsible for the escape to be dealt with harshly.
Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that the President has directed De Lima to crack the whip against erring bureau personnel.
“The President has instructed Secretary Leila to conduct an investigation as to the cause of the occurrence of these escape—the cause of this escape, and also to hold accountable all persons found to be responsible for the escape of Mr. Mancao,” he said
Lacierda said that De Lima, who has already ordered a manhunt against Mancao, has also “asked the assistance of the [PNP].”
“We will wait for the investigation and we will wait for the recommendation of Secretary Leila De Lima,” he added.
The PNP leadership said that it is ready to assist in looking for Mancao.
PNP spokesman, Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr., said they are ready to coordinate with the NBI in looking for the former police officer, who is a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class of 1986.
“We are ready to coordinate and help with them [NBI] in looking for Mancao . . . but we have yet to receive a copy of the report of his escape,” Cerbo told reporters during a press briefing in Camp Crame.
Slap on the face
For his part, NBI Director Nonnatus Ceasar Rojas admitted that the escape was a “big slap on the face” of the bureau and vowed that “heads will roll.”
“This is a big slap on our faces, we will not stop until we bring him back. We are now intensifying our manhunt for him, it is better if he just surrender,” he told reporters.
“We will investigate this case thoroughly and we will file appropriate charges against all conspirators . . . heads will roll,” he warned.
Mancao was a former trusted aide of Sen. Panfilo Lacson when the latter was the head of the Philippine National Police.
Mancao, in his 2009 sworn affidavit, tagged Lacson and former president and now Manila mayoralty candidate Joseph “Erap” Estrada, as the masterminds of the twin slays.
Lacson even fled the country in January, 2010 after an arrest warrant was issued against him in connection with the killings. He returned after almost a year of hiding in 2011 when his political ally, President Aquino assumed office.
He has since been cleared by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
Estrada denies the accusation calling it hearsay and baseless.
Mancao is all alone in facing the Dacer-Corbito double murder case because the other accused—Lacson and Sr. Supt. Michael Ray Aquino—have been both exonerated by the courts.
Incidentally, Mancao was former Philippine National Police chief and incumbent Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s co-accused in the Kuratong Baleleng rubout case.
Lacson was also cleared of the charges.
Besides Lacson, police generals Jewel Canson, Francisco Zubia Jr. and Romeo Acop, Aquino, and 28 other police elements and civilians have also been absolved.
Lacson was accused of ordering the alleged summary execution of 11 suspected members of the Kuratong Baleleng gang on May 18, 1995, during his stint as head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force.
It could be recalled that Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 18 Judge Thelma
Bunyi-Medina turned down Aquino’s request for a reinvestigation of the Dacer-Corbito case, saying that it would only cause further delay in resolving the case.
Aquino had asked the court to order the Justice department to conduct another preliminary investigation to determine if there is probable cause to charge him in the Dacer-Corbito double murder case.
He argued that the Court of Appeals did not find credence in the testimony of Mancao who implicated Aquino with Lacson as the alleged mastermind of the murders.
The CA, however, ruled that there was no probable cause to file charges against Lacson.
But the Manila RTC found it unfair to cause further delay to the case, especially since there are other accused who are detained while the case is still pending.