November 28, 2022

(UPDATE) SUSPENDED Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag surfaced on Friday, armed with revelations related to the killing of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and accusations against Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.

“I am not worried about the charges against me because these are all fabrications,” Bantag said in an interview online, his first since murder charges were filed against him last Monday for alleged involvement in the killing of Mabasa.

He also said a convicted drug trafficker, German Agojo, could be behind the killing of Mabasa last October 3.

Agojo has been serving a life sentence since 2002.

Bantag said self-confessed gunman Joel S. Escorial and Cristito Villamor, the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmate implicated as the middleman in the Mabasa murder, have direct connections with Agojo.

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Villamor died inside the NBP just hours after Escorial named him as the middleman who hired Escorial’s group to kill Mabasa. An autopsy revealed that he was choked to death with a plastic bag.

Bantag claimed that Agojo was involved in the 2004 killing of Batangas Regional Trial Court Judge Voltaire Rosales, who had convicted him of selling shabu in 1999.

Agojo was also one of the NBP convicts who had testified against then-senator Leila de Lima, who was facing a drug trafficking charge before the Department of Justice (DoJ).

He was also among six inmates who wrote to the government in June 2016 to deny involvement in any plot to assassinate then-president Rodrigo Duterte.

“Attention Lapid family, ‘yung pumatay po kay Percy Lapid ay tauhan nitong Agojo na pinakuha ni [Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin] Boying Remulla sa NBI. Ano papel niya sa buhay? Tauhan niya ‘yung pumatay na si Escorial at yung kaibigan niya na si Villamor (the one who killed Percy Lapid was the henchman of Agojo who was taken by the NBI upon the orders of Boying Remulla. What was [Agojo’s] role? His crew killed Escorial and his friend Villamor),” Bantag said.

He said he suspects that a drug syndicate had Mabasa killed.

“Narco-politics. That has been the case even then,” said Bantag.

He accused Remulla of masterminding the move to discredit him.

Bantag dared Remulla to resign as Justice secretary following the arrest of his eldest son, Juanito Remulla 3rd, in connection with the importation of P1.3 million worth of high-grade marijuana.

“You no longer have credibility, you no longer have moral ascendancy,” he said, addressing the Justice secretary.

Bantag said Remulla was trying to malign him and his group at the BuCor so he could wrest control of the drug lords detained at the NBP.

He named two other inmates, Engelberto Durano and Nonito Arile, whose release he said was being arranged by Remulla when he was still the BuCor chief.

Durano, a former police officer, is in prison for the December 2000 murder of a tricycle driver, the March 2001 attempted murder of a witness, and the July 2001 kidnapping of a student.

Arile, who is also a former police officer, is serving time for kidnapping.

Both are involved in drug trafficking inside the NBP, Bantag said.

He said Agojo, Durano and Arile are supposedly under the government’s witness protection program (WPP) because they gave testimonies identifying him as the mastermind in the killing of Mabasa and Villamor.

Bantag also said he believes it was not Mabasa who took the videos of his house in Laguna that were used in the “Cinderella Man” episode of the broadcaster’s “Lapid Fire” radio program.

Mabasa used the term “Cinderella Man” to refer to Bantag.

Remulla has said it was the “Cinderella Man” expose about Bantag’s illegally amassed wealth that prompted Bantag to order the killing of Mabasa.

But in the TV interview, Bantag said he was informed that the vehicles carrying the persons who took the pictures of his house are connected to Remulla.

“Why would I kill that person, only because of that nonsense which does not even belong to me,” he said.

“You can actually see the setup. They want me removed from BuCor. They wanted to replace me as early as August 2022. I was already giving [Remulla] my resignation, but he turned it down. I did not understand [why] then, now I understand why,” he said.

He accused Remulla of “trying to condition the minds of the people that I was the one behind the killing of Lapid.”

Bantag said he has no plans to surrender since no warrant of arrest has been issued against him.

“I have no choice but to face the media since they say I need to face it like a man. But I don’t have a warrant of arrest yet, then you will tell me to surrender? You suspended me for three months then you will say I went on AWOL (absent without official leave)? Oh please, Boying,” he said.

Bantag also said he has no intention to flee the country. “Don’t worry, I will not leave the Philippines because I am a Filipino, I will die here in the Philippines,” he said.

In a press briefing on Friday, Assistant Secretary Jose Dominic Clavano 4th, DoJ spokesman, said that before the Mabasa murder, Remulla and Bantag had a “strong and healthy” relationship.

“They discussed reforms with each other, they planned operations together, they set many persons deprived of liberty free together,” Clavano said.

On Bantag’s claim that he gave his courtesy resignation at the start of the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Clavano said it was Remulla who gave his “outright support” for Bantag.

“The DoJ understands the predicament of Bantag. His words and actions, no matter how personal and inappropriate, come from a misguided sense of betrayal,” he said.

Clavano insisted there is only one issue at hand — the murders of Mabasa and Villamor.

“Let us not muddle the issue, let us not clutch at straws,” he said.

Clavano said the method used in the investigation conducted jointly by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was the method of deduction.

“Meaning to say, at the start, there was a long list of persons of interest. There were many politicians, government officials and big names on that list. They were the persons targeted in the show of Lapid who may have had a motive to kill him,” he said.

However, the evidence, the sworn statements of the PDLs, ballistics analysis, CCTV footage, and the money trail boost the credibility of the allegations against Bantag and the other respondents, Clavano said.

“Simply said, anybody in the position of the NBI and the PNP would file the case given the totality of circumstances they gathered from the investigation,” he said.

The investigators, he said, “have been on this case from the very beginning. They had the privilege of observing body language, asking probing questions, receiving intelligence reports, and finally piecing everything together.”

Quoting Remulla, Clavano said they hope that they could point at the drug syndicates inside the NBP as the perpetrators.

“It was not good news when the evidence started to point to the respondents. But given the totality of the circumstances, the PNP and the NBI had to stick to the evidence at hand,” he said.

Clavano said there is a proper forum and a proper time to thresh out Bantag’s accusations against Remulla.

Charged with Bantag in the murder of Mabasa and Villamor were former BuCor deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta, and several prisoners.

Clavano said that as of Friday, subpoenas against Bantag and Zulueta have yet to be issued.

“There is no other motive than to bring out the truth and reality,” Clavano said. “Of course, this will be done through a legal process and with due process afforded to everybody involved.”