Lacson bares Erap’s ‘dark side’

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — SENATOR Panfilo Lacson yesterday revealed the “dark side” of former President Joseph Estrada, accusing the latter of protecting jueteng lords and playing godfather to smugglers and of involvement in other shady activities.

In a privilege speech, Lacson said when he came to work for then Vice President Estrada on August 4, 1992, as head of the defunct Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, he was very impressed because Estrada took care of their needs, was always mindful of his and his men’s safety and security.

“I hope you will understand why it has taken me this long to unburden myself of the truth I carry,” said Lacson.

He recalled that after Estrada made it clear to him that he wanted to get rid of corruption which was keeping the masses mired in poverty, he became convinced that the then vice president was the right man to lead the country.

During the presidential campaign in 1998, he and his men helped guard against election fraud which would keep Estrada from winning.

“My men and I went around the whole country �” Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao �” talked to as many field commanders and chiefs of police, so that they would not allow themselves to be used as instruments to cheat Mr Estrada out of sure victory,” he added.

In one of their visits in Mindanao, he met with then Southcom chief Lt. Gen. Joselin Nazareno and he brought him to Vice President Estrada. Nazareno pledged to guard the votes in Mindanao and Estrada told Nazareno he would consider him as the next Armed Forces chief when he became president.

However, when Estrada became president, Lacson was asked if it was possible for him to be assigned as the AFP chief of staff. “I told him, that was his prerogative as incoming commander-in-chief, but firmly reminded him that a promise was made to General Nazareno.”

“His sudden amnesia got me to start thinking, “something could be wrong with the character of this man,” Lacson said.

This thought came to him again sometime in early June of 1998, Lacson said, when Estrada told him jueteng should be left alone because the governors and mayors depended on the illegal gambling operations for their financial needs.

Shocked and surprised, Lacson said he told Estrada: “Sir, ilegal ‘yan. Saka presidente na kayo. Dapat huwag na kayong makialam sa jueteng. Larong lupa pati iyan. Sasabog kayo diyan at masisira tayo pareho. “

Visibly dismayed and irritated, Estrada allegedly said, “Sige, saka na lang tayo mag-usap.”

Lacson said his unwavering stand against jueteng delayed his appointment as PNP chief and made his life miserable.

He said he was practically banned from Malacañang. “Mr. Estrada had unofficially declared me persona non grata in the palace grounds. “

He also learned that Estrada was dealing directly with his subordinate officers, both at the PAOCTF and the PNP.

“Anak ng jueteng na buhay ito!” I would tell my close friends.

Aside from jueteng, Lacson said Estrada had also other “sinister” acti-vities. “Jueteng is just one illustrative insight into the character of Mr. Estrada as a government official, and as President of the country. There were other sinister behavioral patterns that must be told to the Filipino people. Sa likod ng isang maka-mahirap na Joseph Estrada na mahal na mahal ng masa, ay maraming transaksyon na may kasamang pang-aabuso, gamit ang kapangyarihang kaagapay ng pagiging pangulo ng bansa, upang magkamal ng maraming salapi para sa sariling kapakanan.”

He recalled that in August 1998, in the early part of Estrada’s abbreviated presidency, businessman Alfonso Yuchengco was pressured to sign conveyance of his 7.75% PTIC (Philippine Telecommunications Investment Corporation) holdings, equivalent to 18,720 shares to Metro Pacific, represented by Manuel V. Pangilinan. These PTIC holdings correspond to 2,017,650 PLDT common shares.

“Mr. Yuchengco, I also learned later, was pressed to sign a waiver of his right of first refusal over the PTIC shares of the Cojuangco-Meer group. It was only after the passage of many years that I was to learn that Mr. Estrada, barely two months in office then, used the PNP to harass Mr. Yuchengco’s son, Tito, with threat of arrest on some trumped-up drug charges to force his father, Mr. Yuchengco to sell.,” Lacson said.

Lacson also linked Estrada to smuggling.

“When Mr. Estrada transferred the mission of going after smugglers from the late Lt Gen. Jose Calimlim’s unit in PSG to the PAOCTF, he gave me the mandate to go hammer and tongs against smugglers.” One morning, however, Lacson claimed he received a call from Estrada who ordered him to pull out his men who were staked out outside the port area in Manila to prevent smuggled dressed chicken parts from China and the US from being spritied out of the Customs zone.

A few days later in a light conversation on the topic of smuggling inside his office in Malacañang, Lacson said he told Estrada his men could have seized 20 container vans of contraband chicken parts if they were not removed from their position outside the piers “ Sana hindi kayo nag-pull out,” Estrada mockingly replied, according to Lacson.

Lacson also tagged Estrada as the protector of rice smuggling from Vietnam. “Sometime in August 2000, when Mr. Estrada was hardly talking to me, on account of my hard-headedness on the issue of jueteng, he was giving a direct order to one of my subordinate officers in PAOCTF to release a shipload of smuggled rice that was apprehended somewhere in the Cebu-Bohol area.”

The PAOCTF officer was with Lacson in Cebu during that time and relayed to him the President’s alleged order.

“”I did not bother to find out anymore if the officer complied or not with Mr. Estrada’s order.

“Sadly, because we never punish smugglers, the same people who sabotaged our economy during the Estrada regime are the same saboteurs in bed with the present dispensation.

“Walang nagbago, lalo lang lumaki ang komisyon at lagayan,” he added.

Lacson also hinted at Estrada’s involvement in the adduction and killing of publicist Salvado “Bubby Dacer” and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2000.

Estrada and Lacson have both been tagged by former PAOCTF member, Cezar Mancao II, in the case. Both have vehemently denied any link to the double murders.

Lacson, in his speech, questioned Estrada’s “temerity” to issue a press statement that Lacson supervised the so-called Oplan Delta, referring to an alleged plot to kill Dacer.

“Mabuti pa si Mr. Estrada, alam niyang may Oplan Delta. Ako, sa mga pahayagan at kamakailan ko lamang narinig at nalaman na mayroon palang Oplan Delta (Estrada is lucky, he knows of an Oplan Delta. I learned about Oplan Delta only in the newspapers),” he said.

“Sa halip na i-depensa na lang niya ang sarili niya, bakit siya kailangang magturo ng iba (Instead of defending himself, why does he have to point to others)?” he added.

Lacson said he would deliver the second part of his privilege speech Tuesday next week.