Thursday, March 26, 2009

Erap's Private Army

AFTER Joseph "Erap" Estrada was elected president in 1998, he stopped his predecessor's six-year campaign to disband the 560 "private armies" that had proliferated all over the Philippines. Instead, Estrada added one more “private army” to the list - but one that was crafted from within the ranks of the Philippine military establishment, an elite unit that would go after his political enemies and engage in “black operations.”

The activities of Estrada’s “private army” were exposed last month when Philippine National Police (PNP) Col. Cezar Mancao executed a sworn affidavit in Ft. Lauderdale , Florida on February 14, 2009 detailing his personal knowledge of the execution of publicist Bubby Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, on November 24, 2000.

As Mancao explained it, one of the first acts of Estrada after he was elected president was to create the “Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF)” in July of 1998 and to appoint Gen. Panfilo Lacson as its head. Lacson then appointed PNP Col. Michael Ray Aquino as Head of the Operations Division, PNP Col. Teofilo Vina as Chief, Task Group-Visayas and Mancao as Chief, Task Group-Luzon. Mancao thereafter appointed PNP Col. Glenn G. Dumlao as his deputy for operations.

Although Dumlao was under Mancao’s command, he was given orders by Aquino to “conduct discrete Background Investigation on a certain personality” which turned out to be media man Bubby Dacer. He was instructed to monitor Dacer's visitors and to surreptitiously enter his office at the Manila Hotel and purloin whatever documents could be taken. Following his orders, Col. Dumlao proceeded to the Manila Hotel, posed as a hotel guest, and checked in using the alias “Irwin Chavez.”

In his February 14, 2009 affidavit, Mancao wrote: “While I was opposed to Aquino’s use of my personnel, there was nothing that I could do then to prevent him because he occupied a position higher than myself in terms of designation at the PAOCTF organizational hierarchy. Additionally, these special operations were under the direction of Lacson as PAOCTF head. However, I still instructed my men at Task Group Luzon to bring to my attention orders regarding special operations not directly coming from me and not to be keen in performing operations outside of the PAOCTF mandate, especially illegal ones.”

Why was Dacer a special target of the PAOCTF?

Although Dacer had actively campaigned for Estrada in the 1978 presidential elections, he incurred Lacson’s ire because he openly opposed Lacson’s appointment as head of the Philippine National Police (PNP), writing a letter to Estrada noting Lacson’s “ruthless abuse of power in pursuit of his goals” and “because many foresee a police state” under Lacson.

Despite Dacer’s opposition, Estrada promoted Lacson as Director-General of the PNP on November 16, 1999. Lacson, in turn, appointed Col. Aquino as the Deputy Director of the PNP-Intelligence Group (“PNP-IG”), the country’s counterintelligence agency. Col. Aquino later served as the Acting Officer-in-Charge of the PNP-IG while still maintaining his concurrent position with the elite “Black Ops” unit known as the PAOCTF.

Dacer incurred Estrada’s “severe displeasure” because of repeated stories appearing in Emil Jurado’s columns linking Dacer to destabilization attempts against the Estrada administration. On February 16, 2000, Dacer wrote Estrada informing the president that in order to “permanently take myself out of the line of fire,” he was “now planning to close my PR business and finally retire…despite the tears of my children…who feel that I was unjustly taking the fall for other people’s sins.”

In September of 2000, Dacer met with two of Estrada’s closest cronies, Butch Tenorio, the head of the Philippine Amusement Games Corporation (PAGCOR), and Dante Tan, the head of Best World Resources, to assure them that he was not involved in any effort to destabilize the government of President Estrada.

Tenorio and Tan thereafter reported their conversation with Dacer to Lacson. Soon after that meeting, Lacson convened a group of PAOCTF operatives in October of 2000 with instructions “to silence Dacer” after a “clearance from Malacanang was given.” According to Mancao, Tenorio and Tan were tasked to handle the expenses of the “operation”; Col. Dumlao and his assistants were ordered to handle the monitoring, surveillance and abduction of the “target individual”; and Task Group-Visayas Chief P/Supt. Col. Teofilo Vina was directed to take care of the “final phase.”

When Mancao learned about Aquino’s orders to Dumlao, he and Dumlao went to Aquino’s office to inquire about the matter. “Aquino informed us that these “special operations” had been previously approved and cleared by Lacson and by Malacanang itself. Dumlao mentioned to me that the “special operations” had for its target a certain media man critical of Erap, whom they referred to as “Delta”. Being in the nature of a special operation, I decided not to inquire further. For purposes of clarity, PAOCTF’s “special operations” then pertained to operations that did not follow the normal channels of command and did not come under the purview of its mandate.”

On November 21, 2000, Bubby Dacer was summoned to Malacanang to meet with Estrada. At the meeting, Estrada informed Dacer that his intelligence operatives had proof that Dacer had been actively working with former President Ramos and other opposition figures to have him impeached. Dacer strongly denied the charges but Estrada could not be placated. Estrada severely berated Dacer during their meeting, and the latter left the Palace in fear of his life.

In his affidavit, Mancao recalled a fateful conversation: “I heard Lacson order Aquino to liquidate Berroya, his public-known nemesis, saying: “Noy, tirahin nyo na si Bero.” Lacson said this while we were on board his car en route to a Japanese restaurant in Greenhills, San Juan , for lunch. I was seated at the front seat of the car then driven by Sgt. Oximoso (“Oxy” as we usually called him), while Aquino and Lacson sat at the back. Aquino responded to Lacson that he intends to neutralize or liquidate Delta first because Erap was already peeved at him, saying: “Tapusin muna namin si Delta, Sir, kasi naiirita na si Bigote sa kaniya.” (“We’ll finish with Delta first, Sir, because the mustachioed one is irritated with him”).

To be continued.

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