November 28, 2022

SUSPENDED Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag has been charged with murder for the killing of broadcaster Percival Mabasa, popularly known as “Percy Lapid,” and a National Bureau of Prison (NBP) inmate tagged as the middleman who helped recruit Lapid’s killers.

The filing of the murder complaints by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) before the Department of Justice (DoJ) was revealed Monday during a press conference led by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.

Charged along with Bantag for the killing of Lapid were BuCor Deputy Security Officer Ricardo Zulueta and inmates Denver Batungbakal Mayores, a trusted aide of Bantag; Alvin Cornista Labra, leader of the Batang City Jail gang who received the call from Mayores; Aldrin Micosa Galicia, head of the Sputnik gang who took instructions from Galicia; and Alfie Peñaredonda, head of the Happy Go Lucky gang who was identified as the financier.

Charged with Bantag and Zulueta for Villamor were Labra, Micosa, and fellow inmates Mario Germones Alvarez, Joseph Medel Georfo, Christam Ramac, Ricky Lamigo Salgado, Ronnie Pabustan de la Cruz and Joel Alog Reyes.

During the briefing, government officials led by Justice Secretary Remulla presented a chart detailing the chain of conspiracy in the killing of Lapid and Villamor.

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NBI spokesman Eugene Javier said the prisoners’ sworn statements showed a clear and direct line of communication from Bantag and Zulueta to Mayores, Labra and Galicia.

Galicia arranged and executed the killing of Lapid through his gang members and their contacts outside the NBP, Javier said.

That brought in self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial and his accomplices, he said.

A direct line of communication could also be established from Bantag and Zulueta to Mayores, Mayores to Labra, and then Labra to Galicia, whose gangmen killed Villamor.

“This time, Jun Villamor was suffocated to death by a plastic bag and held by his own gang members. This unique circumstance shows that the order came from a high official of the BuCor,” Javier said.

“One usually seeks refuge and protection from his own gang members. The fact that they killed one of their own means and indicates that there were instructions from the top, and the gang simply had no choice but to execute,” he said.

Javier said Bantag had a clear motive in killing Lapid, who had sharply criticized Bantag in his radio program “Lapid Fire.”

The money trail described by the inmates matches the bank activity of those charged, he said.

“In sum, all the statements given by the [inmates] and gunman Joel Escorial, coupled with evidence, corroborate as to the material facts needed to prove the two counts of murder,” he said.

Among the evidence submitted was Villamor’s dying declaration where he identified the personalities that ordered the hit on Lapid, including the leaders of the three gangs inside the NBP.

The declaration was culled from text messages he sent to his sister, Marissa. Villamor had instructed her to reveal the messages in case he is killed.

Remulla called on Zulueta, who he said went into hiding four or five days ago, to turn himself in.

A subpoena, meanwhile, will be served to Bantag at his BuCor office and his residence in Caloocan City.

Remulla said the principle adopted in charging Bantag is the “totality of all the facts given to us by all the witnesses and all the circumstances attendant to the killing.”

“It is not for us to point out a direct link, but a totality of all the acts point out to the participation of and totality of those charged,” he said.

Remulla said none of the inmates would have talked if Bantag remained as BuCor chief because they feared him.

He noted that the assorted contraband found at the NBP last week is a “very strong indication” of a thriving criminal syndicate inside the facility.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos, who was also at the briefing, described the filing of the charges as “historic.”

“On record, I would say this is one of the fastest. The gunman surrenders two weeks after the killing [of Lapid]. He feared for his life because of the reward we offered [on his head],” Abalos said.

Roy Mabasa, Lapid’s younger brother, said the family continues to fear for their lives because of persistent threats.

He said there were instances that unidentified cars were seen casing the Lapid residence in Las Piñas City.

Mabasa said the family appreciated the efforts of the NBI, the PNP, the DoJ and the Department of the Interior and Local Government that resulted in the filing of the complaints, but added they would be at peace if the “real” masterminds were unmasked.

The 63-year-old broadcaster was shot dead in Las Piñas on October 3 as he drove to his studio.

He was the second journalist to be killed since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office on June 30.

Malacañang on Monday expressed hope the filing of charges against top BuCor officials and inmates will finally bring closure to the family of the slain broadcaster.

Office of the Press Secretary Officer in Charge Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil said the President is “aware” of the developments of the case.

Also on Monday, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. filed a resolution asking the House of Representatives to raise funds to aid Lapid’s heirs.

The donations must be given to House Secretary General Reginald Velasco not later than November 30.

Barzaga said he will donate P100,000 to the Lapid family.

WITH KRISTINA MARALIT AND REINA C. TOLENTINO