November 28, 2022

(UPDATE) SUSPENDED Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag, who is implicated in the killing of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and a prison inmate, said on Monday he will not surrender until an arrest warrant is issued against him.

Bantag said in an interview that Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla is in a hurry to get him jailed by asking him to surrender despite the fact that the preliminary investigation in the Mabasa case has not even started.

“I don’t have an arrest warrant yet, but he is asking me to surrender. There is no subpoena yet. There is no preliminary investigation. Nothing yet. Why are they in a hurry. It’s like they want to put me in jail already,” said Bantag.

“Kung ako ay ibon, inilagay na nila ako sa hawla, ganoon ang gusto nilang mangyari (If I were a bird, they would have put me in a cage. That is what they want to happen),” he added.

Bantag admitted he had a good working relationship with Remulla before he was implicated as the mastermind in the Mabasa murder.

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Remulla “behaved really well towards me, he was saying that we have the same boss [former president Rodrigo Duterte]. That’s why I feel bad because Boying Remulla just took me for a ride,” he said.

He said Remulla even directed him to coordinate with the Department of Public Works and Highways in finalizing the details of the construction of a maximum security prison for 2,000 heinous crime convicts in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental early next year.

“He manipulated me. He is so good; he is a really good politician,” Bantag said, referring to Remulla.

He said that as early as last August, he already knew that former military chief Gregorio Catapang Jr. will be taking over his post at the BuCor.

“That is the reason why I already tendered my courtesy resignation that time so that when the new administration comes we will give it to the new one who will be appointed, because we are used to procedures in the government. Remulla, however, turned down my resignation. He said, ‘Never mind, you are already there,'” Bantag said.

He refuted the Justice secretary’s claim that he was enraged last September 9 after Mabasa showed the video of his house in Laguna on his program, “Lapid Fire.”

Remulla said Mabasa described the house as belonging to the “Cinderella Man,” a government official who enriched himself while in office.

He added that the expose drove Bantag to have the broadcaster killed.

“But what really happened was that I sent Remulla a link of the said video that day and asked him for advice on what I should do, since he is the Justice chief and he is a lawyer. But he did not reply; he did not even react,” he said.

Bantag said he then sounded out his former classmates at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) if he should sue Mabasa.

He said he sent his message through their Viber chat group that also included not only members of PMA class of 1996 but also several government officials who were “adopted” by their batch.

When he viewed the entire video, he found nothing incriminating in it, so he just brushed it aside.

“So how can they say that this was what pushed me to order the killing of Mabasa? Why does [Remulla] have to make up stories?” Bantag said.

Remulla also said Bantag did not attend the graduation ceremony of the University of Perpetual Help in New Bilibid Prison on September 9 after learning that Mabasa had taken pictures of his Laguna residence.

Remulla said Bantag’s absence was significant because all of the school’s board of trustees were present at the event.

Bantag and BuCor Deputy Security Officer Ricardo Zulueta were charged as “principals by inducement” in the killings of Mabasa and inmate Cristito Villamor, the alleged middleman who contracted the team of assassins.

Also charged were NBP inmates Denver Batungbakal Mayores, Alvin Cornista Labra, Aldrin Micosa Galicia and Alfie Peñaredonda.

Charged with Bantag and Zulueta in the Villamor case were inmates Christian Dizon Ramac, Ricky Lamigo Salgado, Ronnie Pabustan de la Cruz and Joel Alog Reyes.

The two murder complaints will be consolidated with the case filed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) on October 18 against Joel Escorial and his four alleged accomplices — brothers Edmon and Israel Dimaculangan, a person identified only as “Orly” or “Orlando,” and Christopher Bacoto, a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology inmate, who is alleged to be the second middlemen in the Mabasa killing.

On Monday, the prosecuting team from the Department of Justice (DoJ) issued subpoenas to Bantag and his co-respondents in the two murder cases.

Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said the team set the hearings for November 23 and December 5.

Rocky Thomas Balisong, counsel for Bantag, has said he will submit Bantag’s counter-affidavit after they get a copy of the subpoena.

Also on Monday, the PNP said it will look into Bantag’s claim that the real brains in the killing of Mabasa is a convict named German Agojo.

PNP spokesman Col. Jean Fajardo said in a television interview that the PNP, the DoJ and the Department of the Interior and Local Government want to probe every angle in the Mabasa and Villamor cases.

Bantag has said Agojo is the one that has close connections with Villamor and Escorial.

He said Agojo, Villamor and Escorial were involved in the killing of a judge in Tagaytay City, with Agojo acting as the group’s ringleader.

The DoJ earlier said that Bantag’s allegations were motivated by a “misguided sense of betrayal” when he was implicated as the mastermind in the Mabasa and Villamor killings.