PNP, Delfin Lee and 2 conflicting letters
MANILA, Philippines – Was it a mere case of miscommunication? Or was there a police attempt to prevent his arrest?
A document shows that the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation Group (CIDG) removed controversial businessman Delfin Lee from the list of people with warrants of arrest. But the office of PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima insisted he was never "de-listed" from the police's wanted list.
Lee, owner of Globe Asiatique, and 4 others faced syndicated estafa charges filed in 2012 by the Department of Justice over the alleged use of ghost borrowers to obtain P6.6 billion worth of loans from Pag-IBIG Fund in 2009.
Lee went into hiding after a Pampanga court issued an arrest warrant against him in May 2012, prompting the government to include him in the list of the country's "Big 5" fugitives.
Lee was arrested by members of PNP Task Force Tugis on Thursday, March 6, at a Makati hotel.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, who heads the government agency that filed the syndicated estafa charges against Lee and others, said powerful people tried to stop Lee's arrest, adding the PNP should explain why it initiated a "delisting" process for the erstwhile fugitive.
A tale of two letters
Two letters to Lee's camp from different high-ranking PNP officials appear to contradict each other.
A letter from PNP chief Purisima to Lee's counsel Emmanuel Pichay said the PNP was "in the process of de-listing Mr. Delfin Lee from the list of wanted person following procedures… The Secretary of the Interior and Local Government [Mar Roxas] is the final authority in the approval of the said de-listing."
The letter was dated Jan 8, 2014 in response to a Dec 2, 2013 letter from Pichay requesting for a certification of Lee's "de-listing" from the list of wanted persons.
Around the same time, Lee's camp – through another lawyer, Willie Rivera – also asked for a certification from the CIDG. This time, the CIDG, through acting director Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalong, affirmed Lee's delisting.
On Jan 15, 2014, the CIDG released a document to certify the absence of arrest warrants for Lee, based on a November 2013 Court of Appeals (CA) ruling that "quashed, recalled, and lifted" a warrant of arrest issued by the Regional Trial Court Branch 42 in Pampanga.
The document was signed by Ronald Doctolero from the CIDG Warrant of Arrest Information Systems Section (WAISS), WAISS Chief Police Chief Inspector Honor de Loma, and CIDG Investigation Division Chief Police Superintendent Benjamin Silo Jr.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters on Monday, March 10, that the CIDG's certification was an "honest mistake" since it was based on the CA verdict.
Sindac, in a phone interview with Rappler, called the two letters a "defense strategy" and a "legal ploy" by Lee's camp.
He added that Lee's lawyers earlier wrote to Sindac, asking him to retract a statement saying Lee was still part of the PNP's wanted list. Sindac said the announcement was based on the PNP's existing records and told Lee's lawyers "not to shoot the messenger." Lee's lawyers then wrote a formal inquiry to Purisima after their exchange.
"It's the ploy of the defense to cloud the issue," said Sindac.
Lee's camp, however, is now insisting that his detention is "illegal," claiming the CA order last year in effect dismissed the charges against him and barred authorities from arresting him.
But Sindac explained the CA decision is not yet final and executory.
Sindac said the legality of Lee's arrest was no longer an issue, since it was already accepted by Pampanga Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Edgar Chua.
Chua also issued Lee's commitment order, leading to his detention in a National Bureau of Investigation facility in Pampanga.
Roxas not part of it
Sindac told Rappler no sanctions would be imposed on Magalong and the CIDG over the mix-up in Lee's delisting.
Sindac added that Roxas never approved Lee's delisting because the issue never went beyond Purisima's office. "[The delisting of Lee] never reached [Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas] because there was no progress in the Supreme Court," Sindac said.
A source from Roxas' camp said they would not issue an official statement on the alleged delisting of Lee, because it's the PNP's problem. The PNP is under the DILG. "Lalaki lang ang issue," added the source. (Commenting will blow up the issue.)
Roxas is perceived to be the Liberal Party's standard-bearer in the 2016 presidential polls. Binay, meanwhile, is among the most vocal of his 2016 plans.
Binay, chairman of the Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund, said "influential people" were trying to influence the case against Lee.
“Mga influential people, kagabi talagang p'wersahan.... They went to the point of going to the police last night, trying to make the release [of Lee] on the allegation that the Court of Appeals had a favorable decision,” Binay told reporters the day after Lee's arrest. He did not name names.
One of the "influential people" has already come forward: Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali. According to media reports, Umali called Purisima to ask about Lee's arrest, upon the request of Gilbert Repizo, one of Lee's lawyers. Repizo is reportedly Umali's legal counsel.
The Palace said Umali has since spoken to President Benigno Aquino III about his phone call to Purisima. "The President is satisfied with his explanation," said Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma on Sunday, March 9. – with a report from Buena Bernal/ Rappler.com