MANILA, Philippines—Pagadian City Mayor Samuel Co has gone into hiding after learning that an Iligan City court had ordered his arrest in connection with the P12-billion Aman Futures pyramiding scam, according to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Co quickly left a meeting with barangay leaders around 11 a.m. on Thursday, minutes after Judge Alberto Quinto released the arrest order against him and nine others, said Virgilio Mendez, the NBI deputy director for regional services.
“His informant could have informed him immediately because our arresting team carrying the order of arrest missed him by a few minutes,’’ Mendez said.
Mendez said the NBI has sent out several teams to hunt down the mayor who is reported to have left Pagadian City.
Co, reportedly a political ally of President Aquino, is running for a congressional seat in Zamboanga del Sur under the ruling Liberal Party.
Citing the bureau’s informants, Mendez said Co had changed vehicles and gone into hiding.
“We will ask our men to explain how Co was able to leave quickly,” he added.
Ernesto Mondarte, a Zamboanga del Sur provincial board member, said Co “hastily left Pagadian City on Thursday afternoon.”
“He was in the middle of a meeting with his trusted barangay officials at the executive hall of Pagadian City when he received information he was to be arrested. He hastily left that meeting and Pagadian City,” Mondarte said.
The Inquirer repeatedly tried but failed to contact Co whose phone appeared to have been turned off. He did not reply to text messages either.
The government has accused the Pagadian mayor of direct involvement in the scam, based on complaints filed by investors who accused him of having put up a company that operated like an authorized representative or sub-branch of Aman Futures.
Last month, the Department of Justice ordered the filing of a syndicated estafa case against Co and several others, including Aman Futures founder Manuel Amalilio, in connection with the fraudulent investment scheme that allegedly victimized some 15,000 people in the Visayas and Mindanao.
The DOJ said that Co had awarded Aman Futures with a temporary business permit even without submitting the pertinent documents required by the local government.
One of string of cases
Quinto’s arrest order against Co stemmed from a syndicated estafa case filed against him by Julius Labunog who claimed to have been defrauded of P29.63 million in the scam.
Also included in the arrest warrant, dated April 11, were Amalilio, who is now serving a two-year jail sentence in Malaysia for possession of fake travel documents, Aman executive Fernando Luna, and employees Lelian Lim Gan, Eduard Lim, Wilanie Fuentes, Naezelle Rodriguez, Lurix Lopez, Jerome Sanchez and Oliver Dequito.
No bail was recommended for their temporary liberty.
Placed on BI lookout list
Except for Amalilio, Sanchez and Dequito, the other accused are now under detention, for other cases filed by other victims of the scam, said Mendez.
The Bureau of Immigration on Friday issued a lookout bulletin against Co to prevent him from fleeing the country.
Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. said immigration officers in all airports and seaports have been instructed to arrest Co should he attempt to leave the country.
Co’s photographs have been transmitted to the different ports for posting in all immigration departure counters, he said.
BI spokesperson Ma. Antonette Mangrobang also called on other law enforcement agencies operating in the airports to help the bureau ensure that Co is not able to leave the country.
“It is not only the duty of the BI to prevent wanted persons from fleeing the country. That is also the responsibility of other government agencies. So we appeal for teamwork,” Mangrobang said. With reports from Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao, and Jocelyn R. Uy