The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Monday filed murder complaints against suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag and others in relation to the killing of broadcaster Percy Lapid.
“A case has been filed with the prosecutors and from then we will proceed with the case proper and hopefully this issue will be laid to rest the way it should be,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said in a press conference.
Atty. Eugene Javier of the NBI said two murder charges were filed for the deaths of Lapid and of alleged middleman Jun Villamor, a person deprived of liberty (PDL) inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
Aside from Bantag, also named respondents in the complaint were Senior Superintendent Ricardo Zulueta, a BuCor official, and PDLs Denver Batungbakal Mayores, Alvin Cornista Labra, Aldrin Micosa Galicia, and Alfie Peñaredonda. Bantag and Zulueta were named principals by inducement while the others were principals by indispensable cooperation.
The charge in connection with Villamor's death, meanwhile, was filed against Bantag and Zulueta as principals by inducement, and PDLs Labra, Micosa, Mario Germones Alvarez, and Joseph Medel Georfo as principals by indispensable cooperation.
Christam Ramac, Ricky Lamigo Salgado, Ronnie Pabustan Dela Cruz, and Joel Alog Reyes — all PDLs — were charged as principals by direct participation.
Malacañang on Monday expressed hope that justice would be served for the family of Lapid following the filing of the murder complaints.
"He (President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) is very much aware of the situation. Hopefully, it will pave the way para talagang justice will be served to the family of Mabasa," Officer-in-Charge Undersecretary Cheloy Garafil told reporters.
What took place
“It was found through the investigation that both Director-General Gerald Bantag and DSO Ricardo Zulueta were behind the killing of both Percy Lapid and Jun Villamor,” Javier said.
According to Javier, the sworn statements of the PDLs showed a clear and direct line of communication from Bantag and Zulueta to Mayores. Mayores then communicated with Labra, who coordinated with Galicia.
He said Galicia orchestrated and executed the killing of Lapid through his gang members and his gang members’ contacts outside the NBP.
This, he said, led to the participation of self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial and his accomplices.
A murder complaint was earlier filed against Escorial and his alleged accomplices — Israel Dimaculangan, Edmund Dimaculangan, and one alias Orly.
Meanwhile, Javier said a direct line of communication could also be established from Bantag and Zulueta to Mayores, Mayores to Labra, and then Labra to Galicia, who also executed the killing of Villamor through his gang members.
Galicia relayed the instructions to Sputnik gang member Georfo, who then passed the order to Sputnik gang member Alvarez.
Alvarez then allegedly instructed gang members Salado, Ramac, Dela Cruz, and Reyes to kill Villamor by suffocation using a plastic bag.
“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 added.
In his last message to his sister, Villamor said that Labra, Peñarendoda, and Galicia would be behind his death if he were to die.
The text message translated in Tagalog read: "Te, ingatan mo etong sasabihin ko, ilabas mo ito pag namatay ako dito. Kailangan walang makaalam nito hanggat buhay pa ako. Pag Nawala ako iparating mo kela Joel na ang utos nanggaling sa commander ng Sputnik, Happy-go-lucky at BCJ. Galing ang utos sa opisina at inutos sila Commander Aldrin, Commander Labra at Commander Alfie."
Bantag was preventively suspended in October following the death of alleged middleman Jun Villamor, also known as Cristito Villamor Palaña, while incarcerated at the NBP.
Bantag was also among the 160 personalities considered to be persons of interest by the police in the killing of Lapid, whose real name is Percival Mabasa.
Meanwhile, Escorial, the self-confessed gunman in the killing of Lapid, earlier said a certain “Bantag” had ordered the killing of Lapid.
Escorial did not specify who Bantag is, but Gerald Bantag was the director general of BuCor at that time.
GMA News Online has reached out to Bantag for his comment via text message, but he has yet to respond as of posting time.
Lapid, a hard-hitting radio commentator, was shot dead while on his way home in Barangay Talon Dos, Las Piñas City, on October 3.
According to Javier, Bantag had a clear motive for the killing such as Lapid’s show “Lapid Fire” and an attempt to cover up the murder.
Javier said intelligence reports also indicate that the money trail described by the PDLs matches the bank activity of those charged.
“In sum, all the statements given by the PDLs and gunman Joel Escorial, coupled with evidence, corroborate as to the material facts needed to prove the two counts of murder,” he said.
When asked if there were other evidence that could link to Bantag and Zulueta other than the testimonies, Remulla said they looked at the totality of the evidence.
“The principle that we adopted here in charging the mastermind is the totality of all the facts given to us by all the witnesses and all the circumstances attendant to the killing,” Remulla said.
“So it’s a totality test. 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 added.
Meanwhile, Remulla said a subpoena will be issued for Bantag and Zulueta.
Fear of Bantag
Remulla said none of the PDLs “would have talked if General Bantag remained as the head of the BuCor.”
“The fear of General Bantag is just tremendous and unbelievable from the eyes of these PDLs,” he added.
According to Remulla, a lookout bulletin will also be issued for Bantag and Zulueta. He said Zulueta is already in hiding and that he “skipped town” four or five days ago.
Meanwhile, Javier said that the case showed that a criminal organization was embedded within the BuCor.
Remulla cited the assorted contraband found at the NBP as a “very strong indication” of the presence of a criminal organization within the facility.
BuCor earlier presented assorted contraband, including knives, guns, cellphones, drugs, and around 7,500 cans of beer.
When asked how many individuals have been killed by the criminal organization, Remulla said authorities are still looking into it.
Remulla said authorities found more than 30 bodies at the Eastern Funeral Homes during the conduct of the first autopsy on the body of Villamor.
“This is now being studied by the police and we want to know how all of these people died, the cause of death, and the circumstances surrounding their death,” he said.
Remulla, meanwhile, denied that there were conflicts between the first autopsy conducted by the NBI and the independent second autopsy conducted by noted forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun.
“‘Yung unang autopsy report was done without the knowledge of the dying declaration and without the affidavit of the persons who knew about how Villamor was killed. NBI came in blind when they did the first autopsy,” he said.
“The second autopsy was guided already. We gave all the information available already because this was done a week after the NBI. So when Dr. Fortun conducted her autopsy, she already knew about the dying declaration and she already knew of the affidavit,” he added.
The NBI autopsy showed that Villamor died from hemorrhage in the heart. It also found “no apparent sign of external physical injury.”
Meanwhile, Fortun’s autopsy showed the presence of methamphetamine or shabu in the urine sample collected from Villamor. The remains were also found to have a “history of asphyxia by plastic bag suffocation.” —KBK/KG/RSJ, GMA Integrated News