Monday, March 28, 2011

A Philippine senator who fled double murder charges more than a year ago faced the public Monday for the first time since his return, claiming that he went into hiding because the previous government had conspired to put him behind bars.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson arrived in the Philippines on Saturday from Hong Kong after a court voided the arrest warrant against him. He told a news conference Monday that he had been "a fugitive from injustice."

Lacson was charged with the killings of high-profile publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer, who represented a number of top political figures, and Dacer's driver in 2000.

He said he became a fugitive after justice department contacts told him that the government of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allowed prosecutors to set aside rules of evidence to jail him for a crime he did not commit.

Lacson, a former national police chief, was one of Arroyo's staunchest critics. He left for Hong Kong on Jan. 5, 2010, and in a statement a month later said he was a victim of an alleged conspiracy involving Arroyo and feared for his life.

A spokesman for Arroyo has said in the past that the case is a matter for the courts.

The Court of Appeals ruled last month that there was no probable cause for the arrest warrant and said the main witness against him - one of his former police deputies - was unreliable. The trial court's options include ordering a reinvestigation or dismissing the case on a motion by Lacson's lawyers.

Lacson said he spent 13 months abroad, staying in the homes of friends. He refused to say where to protect the people who took him in.

He said he was prepared to accept any decision of the Supreme Court should his accusers appeal the case.

Lacson said that while evading arrest may be difficult to justify, it would set a worse example if he was jailed without committing a crime.

The case continued despite his absence because the law allowed his lawyers to file pleadings and motions even in his absence, he added.

Dacer's U.S.-based daughters have sued Lacson and ex-President Joseph Estrada in San Francisco for alleged complicity in the murder under a U.S. law that allows federal courts to consider accusations of human rights abuses committed outside the United States.

Estrada, Arroyo's predecessor and the president at the time of Dacer's murder, has denied any involvement in the killings.


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