One of the men who gunned down radio commentator Percival Mabasa earlier this month surrendered to the police, saying the order to kill him came from inside the New Bilibid Prison.
In a press conference, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. presented Joel Salve Estorial, who surrendered to the Philippine National Police-Special Investigation Task Group on Monday out of fear for his safety.
“In just 15 days, we have already achieved a major breakthrough in the Percy Lapid case,” Abalos said, referring to Mabasa by his radio name.
Estorial, who is now in police custody, said he and the brothers Edmon and Israel Dimaculangan, and a certain Orlando or Orly, were responsible in the murder, for which they were paid a total of P550,000.
He added he was the one who shot Mabasa.
In front of TV cameras, Estorial told Abalos that Orly instructed them that whoever was closest to Percy will be the shooter.
He said Orly told them if they did not take the shot, they would be killed.
Estorial told Abalos that he surrendered because he was bothered by his conscience and that he feared for his life.
The 39 year-old Estorial lives in New Capitol Estates 1, Quezon City while the Dimaculangan siblings are residents of Las Piñas, the city where Mabasa was ambushed.
The suspect apologized to the family and friends of Mabasa. “Sana po mapatawad po nila ako. Hindi ko naman kagustuhan ‘yun. (I hope they can forgive me. I didn’t want to do it.)”
The Southern Police District on Tuesday night conducted a walkthrough at the crime scene upon the request of the Mabasa family.
The police, led by SPD director Kirby John Brion Kraft also allowed Mabasa’s brother Roy to talk face to face with Estorial.
“I was able to talk with the alleged gunman and he was cooperative,” said Roy after the walkthrough.
“He (Estorial) is helping us. He has identified the places from where he walked to up to the area where the actual killing of my brother took place. We thank the PNP for their good work,” Roy said.
Abalos said the PNP is now conducting follow-up operations and dismissed talk that Estorial was merely a fall guy.
He said the gun used by Estorial and a slug found at the crime scene matched in a ballistic examination. He added that the clothes the suspect was wearing as seen on CCTV footage was also recovered, although it was already cut to pieces.
“We have to get to the mastermind, that’s very important. The investigation is ongoing right now… We don’t want to jeopardize that,” Abalos said.
He aid with Estroial’s surrender, the police now had the key to unravel the motive and identity of those who planned Mabasa’s burden.
“With the forensic results, we also now have a strong case against the suspect,” Abalos said.
In a statement, Mabasa’s family thanked the police for the arrest.
“We would like to thank the PNP for the surrender of the person who claims to be the gunman. We hope this development leads to the identification, arrest and prosecution of the mastermind. We hope Percy does not become part of the statistics and continue to clamor for justice for Percy and the nearly 200 journalists killed since 1986,” the statement read.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines also described the gunman’s surrender as a positive development towards accountability for Mabasa’s murder.
“We hope that this arrest will lead to the identification, arrest and prosecution of whoever ordered and paid for the killing of our colleague. Accountability in this case will help chip away at the culture of impunity around journalist killings that media, civil society and government agencies have been working to change,” the NUJP said.
Mabasa, also known as Percy Lapid of dwBL 1242, was killed while driving his Toyota Innova on his way to the radio station around 8:30 p.m. on Oct 3 along Aria St. Sta. Cecilia Village, Talon Dos in Las Piñas City.
The NUJP said Mabasa is the second journalist to be killed under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
PNP chief Police Gen. Rodolfo S. Azurin Jr. said Estorial’s surrender was a major breakthrough in the case.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Tuesday directed Bureau of Corrections (BuCOr) Director-General Gerald Bantag to investigate Estorial’s claim that the orders to kill Mabasa came from the New Bilibid Prison.
In a press conference, Remulla said he has yet to be briefed as to the circumstances, details and statements made, in connection with the surrender of Estorial.
He said he would ask Bantag to submit a report to him regarding Estorial’s claim at the soonest possible time.
Remulla also said the gunman’s confession should be vetted thoroughly.
BuCor spokesman Gabriel Chaclag said an investigation is now being conducted to verify Estorial’s connection with an unidentified inmate.
He said a report is expected to be submitted within the day.
“Our policies in the NBP are all aimed at preventing convicted criminals in further being able to inflict harm on our free society,” he said. “It is wrong in all senses that a prisoner can still be able to communicate with his cohorts to perform criminal acts outside.”
In other developments:
• The United States Embassy in Manila extended its condolences to the kin of Mabasa as it underscored its support for press freedom in the Philippines. In a roundtable discussion in Makati City on Monday, US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said Washington DC “has noted with concern” that the Philippines fell in the rankings of the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index in 2022.
• Speaker Martin G. Romualdez lauded Abalos and the PNP for the arrest of a suspect in the killing of Mabasa. “We in the House of Representatives welcome this positive development in the unfortunate crime that took the life of Percy Lapid. We applaud the efforts of SILG Abalos and the police to swiftly resolve the case,” Romualdez said.