Remulla says facts pointed to Bantag as behind Mabasa’s killing
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday said they saw no evidence that anyone higher than suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag was responsible for the Oct. 3 murder of radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa.
“We don’t see anything else as of this time,” Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla said Tuesday after he was asked about a statement from the Mabasa family that they were unconvinced that Bantag was the mastermind.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), which filed murder charges against Bantag and BuCor Deputy Security Officer Ricardo Zulueta and several inmates Monday, offered to provide security for the two suspects who are still at large.
Remulla said they are waiting for the report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council to trace the money trail in the case.
The AMLC earlier confirmed that the bank account of self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial received P550,000, the same amount he was allegedly offered to kill the hard-hitting commentator.
“We are waiting for the AMLC report that’s why we are at 95 percent of the case,” Remulla said. “We always follow
the money when there is a criminal enterprise. . . We have suspects there already.”
Remulla said he initially considered other persons or groups could be behind the killing of Mabasa, but said the facts pointed to Bantag.
“I was hoping I could point to other groups, the drug lords, and not Bantag but these facts came out,” he said.
Despite Remulla’s statement, the NBI said it was still considering the possibility that there may be a more powerful mastermind than Bantag.
In a TV interview, NBI supervising agent Eugene Javier said others may still be implicated in Mabasa’s murder.
Javier said that they have been receiving intelligence reports about another supposed mastermind, but he said he cannot divulge this information which has yet to be verified.
In a separate interview on Unang Balita, Lapid’s brother Roy Mabasa said the evidence laid out by authorities in the investigation against Bantag is clear.
Quoting Remulla, Mabasa said the investigators are still working on the remaining 5 percent of the investigation.
“We don’t want the investigation to end on Bantag. If there is a remaining 5 percent, we hope that it would still be investigated and expose the people behind the killing,” he said in Filipino.
Mabasa said his brother called out Bantag on his online radio program for having a mansion and expensive cars.
Based on information from Lapid’s listeners, Mabasa said Bantag was dubbed “Cinderella” in BuCor.
Self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial said based on his conversation with alleged middleman of the kill order, Cristito Villamor Palaña, Bantag got hurt by Percy’s radio commentary.
“He was bashed on radio—Bantag’s house and vehicles. (As per Palaña) Bantag reportedly got hurt that is why he ordered the killing of Percy,” Escorial said.
Palaña was suffocated with a plastic bag hours after Escorial surrendered and identified him as one of two middlemen.
In an earlier interview right after he was tagged as one of 160 persons of interest, Bantag said he is open to undergo a lifestyle check if asked of him.
“Even though my name was not mentioned, I know he was talking about me…The vehicles that were parked there were not all mine. I said six of those are owned by BuCor. Of course, I owned some and some of those vehicles were owned by my neighbors,” Bantag said.
He also blamed “powerful drug lords and syndicates” after he was linked to the murder case.
Two weeks ago, Mabasa said someone reached out to them saying that Bantag wanted to talk to the family to clarify the allegations against him.
Mabasa also said Bantag offered to perform a ritual at his brother’s grave.
“Bantag is from the Mountain Province, so he said he will perform a ritual at the grave of my brother,” he said.
Despite the filing of the murder harges, Remulla said the case was not yet closed.
“The investigation is still ongoing. We are still getting some facts and a lot of people are coming forward with information,” he said.
He said it was hard to speculate if anyone higher than Bantag was involved, but said they didn’t see anyone else based on the evidence they had.
“When you enter the realm of speculation, we’re not doing the country a favor, so let’s just stay true to ourselves,” he said.
Remulla said it is the sworn statements of the witnesses pointing to the commission of a crime and to Bantag as the alleged mastermind.
He said the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had no other agenda than to solve the case and unmask all those involved.
“We have no biases here. We are not here to oppress anybody. We are here to find out the truth. That’s our job,’” he said.
Remulla said he hopes that Bantag and Zulueta will cooperate with the authorities now that murder charges have been filed against them.
He added that the DOJ will seek the issuance of a hold departure order against Bantag and Zulueta.
The DOJ is expected to issue a subpoena against Bantag and other suspects requiring them to respond with a counter affidavit and appear before the DOJ’s preliminary investigation hearing.
After the DOJ conducts its preliminary investigation, prosecutors willdecide if there is probable cause to file a case against the respondents before a court.
He earlier said that Zulueta had gone into hiding four or five days ago, while the NBI is monitoring the movements and whereabouts of the suspended BuCor chief.
Bantag previously denied involvement in Mabasa’s killing saying he had nothing to gain from it.
He said he would rather die than be jailed for a crime he did not commit.
He also denied any illegal activities or owning numerous vehicles as Mabasa claimed on his radio program “Lapid Fire” on DWBL 1242.
Aside from Bantag and Zulueta, Denver Batungbakal Mayores, Alvin Cornista Labra, Aldrin Micosa Galicia, and Alfie Peñaredonda, all inmates, were also named as respondents.
Bantag and Zulueta were named principals by inducement while the others were principals by indispensable cooperation.
A second murder charge was for the death of an inmate who allegedly served as a middleman and who recruited the gunman Escorial, Cristito Villamor Palana alias Jun Villamor, Christam Ramac, Ricky Lamigo Salgado, Ronnie Pabustan Dela Cruz, and Joel Alog Reyes — all inmates—were charged as principals by direct participation.
Also on Tuesday, Senator Ronald dela Rosa said former President Rodrigo Duterte should be spared from speculation that he ordered the hit on Mabasa.
“You can speculate as much as you can, as much as you want, but the investigation pointed to that person,” said Dela Rosa, referring to Bantag.
“Are you still looking for somebody whom you want to link (to the killing), the one who appointed Bantag?” Dela Rosa said, referring to Duterte.
Dela Rosa said he could see no reason for the former president to order Mabasa’s killing.
“You are already retired, you are no longer President, why did you not order his killing when you were then President?” said Dela Rosa, who was BuCor director during Duterte’s term.
He served as chief of the PNP under Duterte and led his bloody war on drugs.