📰 A real public servant to watch [BusinessMirror]

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From Cecilio Arillo’s column in BusinessMirror: With scandals of every size, make and shape breaking out one after the other involving high public officials, Lacson, famously known for his uncompromising nature against lawless elements, stood alone as a crusader against the multibillion-peso pork-barrel funds, whose insatiable correlation to political patronage, favoritism and corruption is known to everyone.

A real public servant to watch

By Cecilio Arillo – January 1, 2019

I am referring to Sen. Panfilo “Ping” M. Lacson Sr., whose endearing quality as a real public servant brims the records of the country’s contemporary history and captured the imaginations of the millennial and his generations. With God’s will, he’s the man to watch in the political scene in the coming years.

In my 54 years as a journalist, having started out at the age of 22 in 1964 as a police reporter in the Times-Mirror-Taliba chain of publications and later as a defense reporter and writer of historical events in the fields of social and behavioral sciences (in particular, sociology, politics, economics, national security and public safety), largely woven into hundreds of articles and six books, all published by Amazon, one of the world’s largest publishing houses, I have not seen a politician in more than four decades now who remained uncorrupted with exceptional record of integrity and decency in public service.

Has a strict guidance of what’s has right and wrong instilled by his late disciplinarian mother (Maxima), which he passed on to his siblings and became his personal credo in life: “What is right must be kept right; what is wrong must be set right.”

Matching his motto with exemplary action, Lacson surprised the nation when he promptly returned his P200-million-a-year Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to the National Treasury, the only lawmaker to do so, and saved the government P2.4 billion in 12 years, when he was elected to the Senate in 2001 and remains until today the only politician with no record of involvement in pork-barrel scams.

Exactly a decade before the multibillion-peso scandal involving Janet Lim-Napoles surfaced and run its outrageous course, Lacson in a privilege speech exposed in detail the temptation to pocket taxpayers’ money that subsequently linked presidents, senators, congressmen, budget officers and non-government agencies to the PDAF (pork barrel) scams.

With scandals of every size, make and shape breaking out one after the other involving high public officials, Lacson, famously known for his uncompromising nature against lawless elements, stood alone as a crusader against the multibillion-peso pork-barrel funds, whose insatiable correlation to political patronage, favoritism and corruption is known to everyone.

He has authored and cosponsored scores of bills that were enacted into laws to suppress criminality and protect citizens from all types of predation. The details of this and other important historical facts are in my next column.

Before entering politics, Lacson served in various law-enforcement positions and finally as Director General of the Philippine National Police from 1999 to 2001. Upon assuming office as its head, he remarkably spread 85 percent of the PNP multibillion-peso budget to regional, provincial and other frontline units, retaining only 15 percent at the police headquarters in Camp Crame.

He imposed a strict discipline on the force, with he himself setting an example, refusing bribes and declining “rewards” from rescued kidnap-for-ransom victims.

He also rid the organization of the deeply rooted “kotong [extortion] culture” prevalent in the streets, highways and in PNP offices where contractor and suppliers do business and, thus, ranked the PNP for the first time in decades from negative to a high 58-percent public-acceptance rating, while he himself scored 78-percent approval rating.

Because of his solid reputation, Lacson, a product of the elite Philippine Military Academy, Class 1971, became a magnet for envy and a target for demolition by some peers and ambitious politicians threatened by his endearing qualities and popularity among the masses and intelligent voters, persecuting him at every turn and subjecting him to prejudgment of guilt.

Kuratong Baleleng case

Curiously in 2003, the Supreme Court ordered the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to try Lacson and 33 other police officials allegedly linked to the killing of 11 members of the ruthless and dreaded Kuratong Baleleng gang in Quezon City.

For lack of probable cause, however, the trial court dismissed the criminal case, but the special prosecuting team later moved for a new trial, again before the Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court on a flimsy “new evidence” against Sen. Lacson.

The high tribunal, in an en banc decision on November 13, 2012, consequently denied the motion to revive the case.

Dacer-Corbito murder case

Controversial PR man Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, were abducted in Makati on November 24, 2000. Six months later their burnt corpses were found at a creek in Indang, Cavite.

The Department of Justice filed double murder charges against P/Senior Supt. Michael Ray Aquino, P/Senior Supt. Cezar Mancao II, P/Senior Supt. Glenn Dumlao and other officers, all members of Presidential Anti-organized Crime Task Force then headed by Lacson.

They were kidnapped and killed at the height of an active plot to oust President Estrada from power while he was visiting Singapore at that time, with this writer one of those covering him.

Months later, Estrada fell from power and Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the presidency in a power grab. I wrote a book later with the same title, detailing how Estrada was yanked out from power in a conspiracy.

While the plotters were setting the stage to grab power as an added attraction, Dumlao implicated Estrada and Lacson in the Dacer-Corbito murder case. Both Estrada and Lacson promptly denied their involvement.

Much later, after Estrada was ousted and a case was still pending with the Supreme Court against the plotters, another unlikely witness surfaced. This time it was P/Senior Supt. Cezar Mancao II, implicating Lacson as the mastermind of the murders of Dacer and Corbito. In an affidavit, Mancao claimed that Lacson gave the hit order to then-P/Senior Supt. Aquino.

Lacson denied the allegation, stating that the Office of then-President Macapagal-Arroyo had pressured Mancao to sign the affidavit. Mancao himself later confirmed this in a media interview when he apologized to Lacson and Estrada for linking them in the Dacer–Corbito murders, admitting that he had no personal knowledge on the supposed involvement of the two and that he was forced by the Macapagal-Arroyo administration to implicate them.

Tipped on an active hit on him, Lacson quietly left the Philippines for Hong Kong on a Cathay Pacific flight before charges against him were filed at Branch 18 of the Manila Regional Trial Court, which issued an arrest warrant for him. As if on cue by the Philippine government, the Interpol subsequently issued a Red Notice for Lacson, who was spotted in Hong Kong and Rome, where Interpol had offices.

On February 3, 2011, the Court of Appeals withdrew the murder charges against Lacson, citing Mancao, who by then curiously escaped from the National Bureau of Investigation custody and became a fugitive, not a credible witness, prompting the Supreme Court to affirm the Court of Appeals’s ruling on the case.

On his return to the country after the high court cleared him, Lacson said he’s not nursing resentment against his political enemies as he continued his crusade against the pork barrel and other wrongdoings.