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After Michael Ray Aquino and Cezar Mancao fled to the US in 2001 following a tip from Sen. Panfilo Lacson that warrants of arrest would be issued for them, Lacson’s lawyers managed to delay the issuance of the warrants of arrest against Aquino and Mancao until 2006 when the Manila Regional Trial Court ordered their arrests after finding probable cause against them and 18 others in the double-murder case.
In November 2008, Mancao and Dumlao were arrested in the United States on extradition requests from the Philippines. Mancao arrived in Manila in June 2009 and pled not guilty at the Manila RTC and turned state witness against Lacson and Aquino.
At a court hearing before the Manila Regional Trial Court, Mancao testified that while sitting in the front seat of Lacson’s car sometime in October of 2000, he heard Lacson instruct Aquino to proceed with “Operation Delta” (D for Dacer) and that the sanction had the approval of “Bigote” (Estrada).
Lacson’s lawyer questioned Mancao about when he first learned about the abduction of Dacer and Corbito and he replied that it was after they were abducted on November 24, 2000 when Dumlao went to his office to inform him that Aquino had ordered him to proceed to Cavite to tactically interrogate (“t.i.”) Dacer.
Following Mancao’s sworn testimony, in January 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Lacson with two counts of murder in connection with the Dacer-Corbito killings. A warrant of arrest was issued for Lacson.
Even before the warrant was issued, Lacson fled to Hong Kong in December of 2009 while his lawyers challenged the legality of the issuance of the warrant of arrest against him.
It was during this period, while Lacson was in HK, that I met with Carina Dacer in San Francisco. Noynoy Aquino had just been elected president of the Philippines and, although I actively campaigned for him throughout the US, I knew that his election would be good news for Lacson. Noynoy Aquino is his close personal friend and would likely accept his story that the charges against him were nothing but the political vendetta of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Aquino would likely accept Lacson’s explanation. It should be recalled that at the time, Aquino’s girl friend was Shalani Soledad, a Lacson senate aide.
I informed Carina Dacer about the Filartiga precedent and advised her that we had to file the federal civil lawsuit in San Francisco before the 10 year statute of limitations would run out on November 24, 2010.
On September 16, 2000, together with my co-counsels, Errol Zshornack and Felix Antero, I filed the federal civil lawsuit in San Francisco on behalf of the four Dacer daughters [Carina, Sabina, Amparo, and Emily] against former Philippine president Joseph Ejercito Estrada, former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief General Panfilo M. Lacson, former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) chief Reynaldo “Butch” Tenorio, former Best World Resources CEO Dante Tan, and PAOCTF police superintendents Michael Ray Aquino, Vicente Arnado, and Glenn Dumlao [Case No. 3:10-cv-04165 WHA].
The first order of business was serving the summons and complaint on the named defendants and that was a formidable task. We could not locate the whereabouts of Tenorio, Tan and Arnado. We could not serve Lacson because he was hiding out somewhere in Hong Kong where even the Interpol could not locate him. We could not personally serve Estrada because his security would not allow any process server to come near him.
But we could serve Michael Ray Aquino because he was serving time in a federal prison in New Jersey after he pled guilty to federal criminal charges where he was sentenced to 79 months in jail.
In June of 2011, Aquino was served with the summons and complaint while he was in New Jersey on his way to being extradited to the Philippines. While he was in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) - by then headed by his former PAOCTF subordinate Magtanggol Gatdula, Aquino filed a motion to dismiss the Dacer daughters’ federal lawsuit. The motion was filed by Aquino in his own personal capacity (in propria persona) but all the envelopes showed stamps marked as posted in the Philippine Senate Office.
Our assumption was that it was prepared and filed by lawyers in the office of Senator Panfilo Lacson, who had resumed his senate office after a 15 month absence. Lacson returned to Manila and his senate post on March 30, 2011 after the Philippine Court of Appeal had dismissed the criminal charges against Lacson after finding that Mancao is “not a credible and trustworthy witness.”
Lacson’s lawyers had successfully argued that Mancao could not be believed because he said that he only learned about the abduction of Dacer on November 24, 2000 when he also testified that he overheard Lacson and Aquino discuss the plan to kill Dacer while in Lacson’s car. The appellate judges could not believe that Mancao would know of the plan of Lacson and Aquino to kill Dacer but not know about the actual abduction until after it had already occurred. The judges could not imagine Lacson and Aquino carrying out their plan to kill Dacer without including Mancao in the planning of it.
To be concluded.