MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - Senator Panfilo Lacson faces the prospect of being locked up in jail, as a warrant of arrest is likely to be issued against him.
Lawyers we interviewed said judges normally sustain the finding of probable cause against the accused, on the presumption of regularity of performance by government prosecutors.
“There is a strong possibility that an arrest warrant will be issued against him. The issuance of warrant of arrest by the judge is almost automatic,” says UP professor and human rights lawyer Harry Roque.
Roque said judges normally respect the findings of facts by prosecutors, although the issuance of a warrant of arrest is supposed to be based on the personal determination of the judge.
The justice department on Thursday filed two murder charges against Lacson for alleged involvement in the killings of publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, in November 2000.
The murder cases were filed by a DOJ panel headed Senior State Prosecutor Peter Ong at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC).
The indictment was was based partly on the affidavit executed by former police officer Cezar Mancao on February 13, 2009 in Florida.
Mancao was a member of the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, which was concurrently headed by Lacson while he was chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2000.
Aside from Lacson, former President Joseph Estrada is also being implicated in the twin killings.
Mancao has testified that Lacson had knowledge of the twin killings and was told by Estrada to cover up the crime.
After being raffled to a court, the judge has 10 days to review the records whether to issue the arrest warrant.
'Only determination of probable cause, not guilt'
Human rights lawyer Arno Sanidad agreed that an arrest warrant against Lacson is in order.
Sanidad, one of the private prosecutors in the Kuratong Baleleng rubout where Lacson was also charged, said the threshold in the determination of probable cause is not as stringent as in the determination of the guilt of a person.
He said that in the issuance of an arrest warrant, what the judge may simply determine is whether the person is probably guilty of the charges.
Roque said Lacson could file a motion for the determination of probable cause, although his chance of getting a favorable ruling is unlikely.
Even then, he said judges are known to issue warrants of arrests even when the motion for determination of probable cause is still pending.
Roque said Lacson has better chances in a motion for bail, but then again, not after spending time in jail.
He also observed that Lacson, being one of Arroyo’s foremost critics, does not help him either.
Lacson has accused the government of engaging in political persecution for linking him in the Dacer-Corbito case.
In a statement issued by his lawyers Thursday, Lacson reiterated that former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez and now Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera “had prejudged the case against him,” and that the DOJ was going to indict him at any cost.
Lacson could be the second incumbent senator to stay behind bars. Senator Antonio Trillanes is being detained on charges of rebellion.
Lacson: Murder raps politically-motivated
Meanwhile, Lacson on Thursday asked a Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) to dismiss the murder case filed against him by the DOJ.
Lacson filed an Omnibus Motion with the Manila RTC Branch 18 to consolidate the information on the criminal case filed against him. He also urged the court to dismiss the murder raps, whose filing allegedly serves as political harassment.
“Senator Lacson implores the Court to make a painstaking review of the facts and determine for itself that political motivations have played a role in the actions of DOJ to implead him in a criminal case 9 years after its trial had commenced,” his lawyers said.
The opposition senator said the DOJ had allegedly already "prejudged" that he had a hand in the killing of Dacer and Corbito.
Lacson’s camp said it was "not surprised" that the DOJ proceeded with the filing of murder raps against him, as former DOJ Sec. Raul Gonzalez and current justice chief Agnes Devanadera have long been after his neck following his accusations of corruption against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said that the decision of the DOJ not to include his father, former Pres. Joseph Estrada in the criminal charges only proves that they "do not have direct or testimonial evidence" linking him to the murder.
The Estrada patriarch has been accused of masterminding the killing of Dacer.
Regarding the case against Lacson, Jinggoy said that it is best to just let "justice take its course."