It all began last March 6, 2014 when the Philippine National Police (PNP) arrested fugitive real estate developer Delfin Lee at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Casino in Ermita, Manila. With a P2-million price on his head since 2012, his capture ended a nationwide manhunt by PNP’s elite Task Force Tugis.
But no sooner had Lee been in police custody than a series of unusual events started to happen. First, Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali reportedly phoned PNP Director General Alan Purisima in connection with Lee’s arrest. The following day, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III sent a text message to Umali, a ranking political ally and Treasurer of the Liberal Party, asking him to explain why he phoned Purisima?
In a press briefing, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that Umali called P-Noy and explained why he called Purisima. Lacierda said that P-Noy was “satisfied” with Umali’s explanation; however, he did not elaborate what was Umali’s explanation.
In an attempt to put a positive note to Umali’s explanation, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said over Radyo ng Bayan that Umali called Purisima because Umali’s lawyer Atty. Gilberto Repizo — Umali’s province mate and friend — requested it. He quoted Umali as saying that Repizo wanted to “clarify the basis for the arrest of Mr. Lee because as far as his camp knew, the Court of Appeals already has a decision in favor of his client.” the arrest warrant remained valid. However, Coloma couldn’t say if P-Noy was convinced of Umali’s explanation. Coloma said that Repizo was referring to the supposed order quashing the arrest warrant against Lee. Coloma said Purisima replied, saying that Housing loan scam Lee was charged with syndicated estafa, a nonbailable offense, in connection with two housing projects in Pampanga province. He was accused of using fictitious members of the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-Ibig Fund), a government program, to obtain housing loans – totaling P6.6 billion – that he used in GlobeAsiatique’s Xevera subdivisions in Bacolor and Mabalacat towns of Pampanga between 2008 and 2011.
Lee pulled the scam by using non-existent or fake homebuyers and paying them to apply for Pag-Ibig home loans. After the homes were built, GlobeAsiatique would then sell them to other homebuyers who would discover later that the homes they bought were in the names of bogus or ghost homeowners.
On May 22, 2012, a Regional Trial Court in Pampanga issued a warrant for the arrest of Lee, his son Dexter, and three officers of GlobeAsiatique. The manhunt was on. It involved the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Last December, after 20 months of hard investigative work, Task Force Tugis was able to track Lee living in a house in Metro Manila. When the task force led by Senior Superintendent Conrad Capa nabbed Lee last March 6, Capa must have felt proud for capturing one of the country’s most wanted fugitives, the so-called “Big Five,” which include former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother former Coron mayor Mario Reyes, former general Jovito Palparan, and former Dinagat congressman Ruben Ecleo. “We had five original targets. One down, four to go. Hopefully, mahuli yung the rest,” Capa said in a report aired on “24 Oras.” Indeed, with four more to go, Capa was probably enthused to doing his very best to capture them. Nothing – or nobody – could stop him now, he probably mused.
Reward or punishment?
But, alas, Capa couldn’t be farther from reality or to be more precise, realpolitik. What happened next stunned Capa and baffled many people. There was simply no reason why Capa’s boss, PNP Chief Purisima, would abruptly transfer him one week after Lee’s capture, to Cebu as Deputy Regional Director for Operations. In a press briefing, Purisima defended his action saying that Capa’s relief was not a punishment but a reward, a promotion. He said that Capa had been in the task force for a long time and was now due for a transfer. He added that the new assignment would give Capa a chance for a promotion to one-star general.
But Capa had none of that. Caught by surprise, he was frustrated by the sudden turn of events. He felt that his transfer was not a commendation for a job well done. He said that every officer in the PNP knows it’s not a promotion. Capa said that if Purisima had wanted to promote him, there were several vacant positions in Camp Crame, PNP’s headquarters, he could have assigned.
So, if it was not a commendation or reward, what was it then? Could it be that Lee’s arrest and the subsequent intervention of Umali had any bearing to Capa’s relief? Or could it be that Purisima punished Capa for reportedly leaking the information that Umali had called Purisima to intervene on behalf of Lee? Capa was suspected of spreading rumors that Umali had pressured Purisima to release Lee. But Capa denied that he was the one who leaked the information on Umali’s communication with Purisima. But regardless of who had leaked the information, the fact that Umali had indeed called Purisima on behalf of Lee’s lawyer, makes one wonder why would Lee’s lawyer break protocol on matters that should have been done through official channels?
At the end of the day, Capa’s “problem” with his boss Purisima might not have been due to whether he leaked the Umali-Purisima telephone conversation or not. His fate may have been sealed the moment he captured Lee. He had stepped on big toes…. very big toes. And in military-oriented organizations like the PNP, when you step on big toes, you are punished by being kicked upstairs; that is, you’re assigned to a new job that seems to be more powerful but is actually less powerful, which makes one wonder: was Conrad Capa kicked upstairs?