Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A visit to Boy Mancao

In the middle of March, 2006, accompanied by a daughter and my then year-old grandson, I flew to the US of A to visit my family. Two of my kids (whose mom is an American citizen by choice) were studying in the West Coast at the time. I had planned on spending three weeks there, planning to drive to my favourite haunts in Carmel and Monterey with the kids, also to Napa, Sonoma and the rest of California wine country. Three weeks of pure relaxation.

I met up with a close friend who had transferred to San Francisco since a year back, and while we were having lunch in a very good Vietnamese restaurant somewhere near the Golden Gate Park, he called up Cezar Mancao, whom we call “Boy”. Cezar and this friend were together in Mindanao during the 2001 senatorial campaign of Panfilo Lacson, the PNP chief who decided in the first week of February, just days before the deadline, that he would run to become a member of the Senate.

Boy asked me to come to Florida. “Pasyalan mo naman kami dito, Sir, makita mo naman ang southern Florida”, said Mancao. The last time I was in Miami and went diving in the Keys was in 1982. Sometime in 1988, with my kids still in grade school and one a toddler even, the whole family flew from Virginia to Orlando, visiting Disneyland and the Epcot Center. It’s been a long time indeed, and in the cold, rainy spring of 2006, a visit to sunny, tropical Florida would be a nice respite.

We took a midnight flight from San Francisco and arrived at Fort Lauderdale at about seven in the morning, Eastern time. Mancao welcomed us, and immediately drove us to the Grand Palms Golf Club and Spa in Pembroke Pines where I was to stay. After leaving our bags, we then went to his house somewhere in Broward County, just about a five-minute drive away. He lived in an exclusive, gated village, and his house, a six-room affair, was nice, with a small swimming pool at the backyard to boot. Apart from his van, there were two other cars in the garage.

His kids and a brother-in-law were around, while wife Maricar, a medical doctor, was on duty at a nearby hospital. As I was staying just for two days, Boy immediately brought us to Miami, some forty minutes or so away. I noticed how much Miami had changed, with so many towering apartment-hotels facing the bay that arched around South Beach. We soaked in the sights and sounds of the place, transferring from one art deco bar to another well into the morning of the following day. Boy Mancao was the perfect host. On the way back, we even had a police escort from Miami to Pembroke Pines. The police escort turned out to be a West Miami police officer from Asingan in Pangasinan, a kabaleyan and former aide of FVR himself who even brought us cups of strong Cuban coffee. Wow! Pinasiklaban pa ako ni Boy Mancao ng police escort complete with wang-wang.

That morning, when he fetched me at the golf club, and over a cup of morning coffee, I asked Mancao in the presence of our common friend about the Dacer-Corbito double murder. (In the campaign of 2001, when Lacson was running for senator, the vehicle of Dacer was found in a ravine somewhere in Indang, Cavite. This was followed by severe propaganda against my candidate, complete with Senate committee hearings called by Joker Arroyo, if memory serves me right. I watched helplessly by as the survey ratings of Ping fell. In the early innings, he was in the top six, and I thought that with his brilliant feats as PNP Chief, where he turned around the negative image of the police institution, that campaign would be a cinch. But with the incessant barrage of negative propaganda fuelled by money from Malacanang and directed by a cabal of Gloria and Mike loyalists, his ratings slipped fast.)

“Ano ba talaga ang kwento nung Dacer-Corbito?”, I asked Cezar in his own dining room. Without any hesitation, his voice composed and his eyes straight at mine, Boy Mancao stated, “Sir, wala kaming kinalaman ni 71 (that’s Ping’s code monicker) doon. Totoong-totoo, sir.”

“E sino?”, I pressed. Boy this time could not answer. No longer did he look me straight in the eye. He was pensive, looked down at the table, and mumbled, “Ewan, sir. Mahirap namang mag-speculate…”

I looked at our friend, whose facial expression told me I should press no further. He changed the subject matter, and we talked about business opportunities in the Florida area. Mancao had been an instant success as real estate businessman. He struck “gold” when in the wake of a a strong hurricane that hit the Gulf, several houses were levelled out. Then a real estate broker, Cezar suddenly saw his business boom. With quick wits, engaging salesmanship and lots of daring, he bought a lot of real estate, repaired and refurbished these, and re-sold at higher prices. He parlayed one successful deal after another. He was active in Fil-Am community affairs, and even wanted me to have dinner with a state congressman whom he had become chummy with. Boy Mancao had hit the big-time, by Fil-Am standards.

As I was rushing back to California the following day, we capped my visit with a relaxed lunch at a veranda fronting the long beach of Fort Lauderdale, a favourite retirement haven, the marina of which was packed full of plush and swanky yachts. Cezar’s wife Maricar and his kids joined us, and together, they brought me back to the airport for an afternoon flight. I arrived home late into the night, when I received a text message from our paper’s Che Francisco about my article. I could only rush an article about my Florida sojourn about midnight, Pacific time. I e-mailed it without a title, such that boss Pocholo Romualdez simply entitled the piece, “Peripatetic writer”, probably because it read like a travelogue.

But since 2007, when the property market soured, Mancao’s fortunes also fell into bad times. And it became worse in 2008. Sometime last year, he himself called me, and with sad voice, said he was into financial difficulties. Meanwhile, Michael Ray Aquino was imprisoned due to alleged collusion with Leandro Aragoncillo’s admitted spying into US government files regarding his motherland, the Philippines. Finally, along with Glenn Dumlao whom I have not had the privilege of personally knowing, an extradition request was filed by the Philippine government for the three, all on account of the Dacer-Corbito murder trial.

Mancao and Dumlao went into solitary confinement, leg-irons and all. It must have been an excruciating ordeal, and I feel bad for them, especially my friend Boy Mancao. His cousins are even our neighbours in Butuan.

Dumlao has spoken his heart out, and it was shown on television. Senator Lacson excerpted some of his statements in his second privilege speech on Erap and his son Jinggoy.

Mancao has testified in court, and is now under cross-examination. One of his lawyers, as irrepressible but much more irresponsible than former DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzalez, yaks in and out of the courtroom peddling his own scenarios and conjured scripts. I have had my own experiences with this lawyer and one of his hapless clients who should have known better than hire a braggadocio with more air than brains in his cranium.

Aquino is still in a jail in New York (or New Jersey), freed from doing time for the Aragoncillo spy case, but now contesting the extradition request of the Philippine government in connection with the Dacer-Corbito murders.

I feel sympathy for both Ping Lacson, whose career and reputation have been tarnished by the twists and turns of the government’s persecutory handling of the case, instead of assiduously ferreting out the truth, so that justice may finally be done to the Dacer and Corbito families.

I also feel sympathy for President Estrada, who now finds himself stewing in the revelations of Dumlao and Mancao, and the speeches of Lacson.

But, as lawyers have been taught in law school, “fiat justitiae, ruat coeli”. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.

Though the heavens fall.

This government’s Sandiganbayan convicted Joseph Ejercito Estrada for the crime of plunder. This same government pardoned him immediately thereafter, rendering nugatory all the volumes of evidence, documentary and testimonial, that the celebrated trial adduced. Ibaon na lang sa limot, in the hope perhaps that all the political turbulence (with lives lost in Edsa Tres) that convulsed this benighted land for years and years on end, would likewise disappear with political forgiveness.

But bad governance on the part of this regime has covered up for Joseph Ejercito Estrada’s own record of poor governance. Governance that was alright in the full light of day, but became bad in the darkness of night and the wee hours of each morning. Many of us in that government came in with bright hopes, with political capital unmatched since the days of Cory, and ended up disillusioned at the waste of so much goodwill, simply because a weak president could not transcend the habits built through a lifetime of irresponsible hedonism. We agonized through those last days, searching our own souls for our own “reason to believe” any further, any more. Ask Mar Roxas, a decent man who along with many, many more decent persons, served under the Estrada presidency.

Did Joseph Ejercito Estrada order the summary killings of Salvador Dacer and Emmanuel Corbito? And if so, what could have been the motive? Was it “blackmailing him on the BW stock mess”, where he and his friend Dante Tan were accused of insider trading, as Glenn Dumlao stated before a television camera? Was it because Bubby Dacer was found purloining sensitive information from his client Estrada and sharing the same with his friends, FVR and his Joe Almonte? Whatever for? Assuming that indeed, as Dumlao now confesses, the crime was masterminded in the bowels of Malacanang. And assuming further, that Boy Mancao is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.

Because he applied for presidential pardon from a leader whose own record of governance pales in comparison to all predecessors, bar none, and got it, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, sans remorse and sans admission, now wants to inflict his self-proclaimed “visions for the poor” upon the benighted land once more.

Maawa ka naman sa bayan, Erap. Tama na. Ipaubaya mo na sa susunod na saling-lahi. Huwag lang kay Jinggoy.