FAIRFAX, Virginia – The lawyer of former police senior superintendent Cezar Mancao warned his client's testimony could torpedo any chances for former comrade Michael Ray Aquino to win his extradition appeal in New Jersey.
Mancao's lawyer, Arnedo Valera, said his client would debunk, instead of bolster Aquino's basic argument that Mancao was forced to implicate him in the nine-year-old Dacer-Corbito murders.
"As far as Mr. Mancao is concerned, he gave his testimony freely, willingly and voluntarily without mental or physical duress," Valera told ABS-CBN's Balitang America.
Aquino has filed a petition for habeas corpus ad testificandum to postpone the extradition of Mancao and another former police officer, Glenn Dumlao, so they can tell US Magistrate Judge Esther Salas they were tortured into implicating him.
"If he is presented there, it will be inimical to Aquino. He will contradict what Aquino or Dumlao will say," Valera explained.
Citing a conversation with Assistant US Attorney Eric Kanefsky, who is representing the Philippines in the extradition hearings, Valera claimed Aquino's counsel Mark Berman was leaning towards taking Mancao off the witness list.
But the final decision would still be Aquino's, both lawyers agreed.
Mancao, state witness
Legal manifestations from both sides are setting the stage for an intricate court battle in a US federal court, the outcome of which appears to be relevant only to the Philippines.
All three former police officers are suspects in the abduction and murder of PR practitioner Bubby Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito.
Valera was elated by an email from Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales that appeared to commit the government to using Mancao as a state witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution in the double murder case.
"We've been waiting for this for a long time," he revealed.
"He assured us through his email of Wednesday that he will formally declare Mr. Mancao as state witness, and after complying with court procedures, he will be discharged and no charges will be filed against him," Valera explained.
"That is music to the ears of Mr. Mancao and his family because that's what they've been asking for from the start," he added.
Mancao has waived his right to contest his extradition. He was scheduled to fly back to Manila via Los Angeles last March 31.
But Aquino's petition scuttled the plan.
The government appeared to commit a blunder when they re-filed Aquino's extradition request six days before Mancao's scheduled departure.
They were apparently concerned that Aquino might go scot-free after a re-sentencing hearing on March 25 that reduced his prison sentence for espionage to time served in jail.
In their zest to keep Aquino behind bars, Valera said the government may have given him an opening to resort to a "delaying tactic".
Hearing murder case
Unless Aquino can prove coercion in Mancao's testimony, there is a strong chance the US court might be asked to hear the merits of the Dacer-Corbito case, ahead of the much-awaited reopening of the double murder trial in Manila.
"Under case precedents in all the cases decided by the US Supreme Court, it's clear you can not present even contradictory evidence or impeaching documents or witnesses," Valera explained.
He said they would reject any attempt to inject even the elements of the Dacer-Corbito murder case into Aquino's defense.
"They can only show if there is or there is no probable cause," he said.
Valera believes that the Philippine complaint of murder already fulfils the requirement of probable cause.
"That's going to be our argument in the supplemental opposition - you can not use the extradition hearing to bring the merits of the double murder case because that is beyond the jurisdiction of an extradition court hearing," he elaborated.
He said he had stressed to Berman that any effort to stop a prospective witness from voluntarily returning to his country to provide testimony in a court proceeding can only be viewed as dilatory.
"They're just trying to put up a temporary roadblock," Valera averred.
Better treatment for Mancao
In a letter to Sec. Gonzales, Valera said he sought the Philippine government’s intervention to improve jail conditions for Mancao.
"My request was made after consultations with Maricar Mancao (Cezar's wife) because she was able to see him last Monday. His appeal remains to be his expeditious extradition because he can not stand the prison conditions at the federal detention center," he disclosed to Balitang America.
Balitang America conducted the interview Wednesday evening. By Thursday morning, Secretary Gonzales said he was asking Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis to make representations with the US State Department.
Gonzales argued that Mancao has already waived extradition and would serve as state witness in a celebrated double murder trial.