An inmate brought to the New Bilibid Prison from the penal colony in Palawan has pointed to Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Senior Superintendent Ricardo Zulueta as the person who delegated the order to kill broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa.
Denver Mayores, who was transferred from the Iwahig Penal Colony, said in a sworn statement that Zulueta asked him to find a person who could kill Mabasa.
Zulueta was named in the murder complaints filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police this week along with suspended BuCor director-general Gerald Bantag, and inmates linked to the death of Mabasa and Bilibid inmate Cristito Villamor Palaña or Jun Villamor.
The NBP prisoners facing murder complaints were identified as Mario Alvarez, Joseph Georfo, Christam Ramac, Ricky Salgado, Ronnie Dela Cruz, and Joel Reyes.
Meanwhile, the BuCor is considering cutting all communication lines inside Bilibid in the next 30 days, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Thursday.
The Department of Justice also wants to immediately construct a “supermax” jail facility in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, which will house all convicted hard-line criminals, or those who need to be placed under maximum security arrangements, once completed.
The facility will be specifically designed for the “drug players” and “the identified people who should not be within reach of anybody.” It will house up to 2,000 inmates, Remulla said.
This developed as a three-person prosecution panel has been formed to handle the murder cases filed against those implicated in the murder of radio commentator Mabasa, Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento announced yesterday.
Malcontento said the panel will be led by Deputy State Prosecutor Olivia I. Laroza-Torrevillas, with Senior Assistant State Prosecutors Charlie L. Guhit and Josie Christina T. Dugay as members.
In his statement, Mayores said Zulueta called him last September, saying “pare, may trabaho” – meaning there was an order to kill someone.
When Mayores asked who was going to be killed, Zulueta gave the name “Lapid” and instructed the inmate to search for him on Facebook.
Mayores said he then talked to fellow inmate Alvin Labra and relayed the message. After 12 days, Mayores messaged three dots to Zulueta, which meant he was the one texting.
Zulueta then called him and said, “Pare Kamusta na? Naiinip na ang itaas” (How are you friend? The upstairs [bosses] are getting impatient.)
Asked who was upstairs, Mayores said it was Bantag.
As for Bilibid going silent, Remulla told reporters: “In all the correctional institutions in the world, phones are not allowed. it’s only in the Philippines that they can slip through. This is why we are working out a plan with (BuCor acting chief) General (Gregorio) Catapang and you will see it in the next 30 days. We are planning to implement something for communications inside.”
The Justice chief mentioned the latest seizure of computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and telephones inside the national penitentiary.
“Everybody knows that the drug trade… is there in the Bilibid that’s why we’re doing something about it,” Remulla said. “I was promised that before by the old leadership that there wouldn’t be phones, but I think that we were taken for a ride.”
Remulla said that when authorities were investigating the killing of the broadcast journalist, they found out that the communications were being done through Facebook Messenger.
The BuCor has been in the spotlight over controversies cited in testimonies that a prisoner from the NBP allegedly ordered the killing of Mabasa.
Meanwhile, Malcontento said the panel will consolidate the cases related to the murder of Mabasa, who was killed by gunmen on Oct. 3, as well as the death of Bilibid inmate Jun Villamor, who was identified by the self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial as a middleman for the murder contract.
“The cases will be consolidated (and) they will send summons ASAP,” Malcontento said.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. had earlier said all investigations into the Lapid case will proceed until he is satisfied with the conduct of the probe.
Lapid was shot dead in Las Piñas City while Villamor died inside the New Bilibid Prison.
An autopsy by forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun showed there were signs of “asphyxia by plastic bag suffocation.”
Remulla earlier this week said Bantag had a motive for wanting Mabasa killed, since the broadcaster had put together an expose on the prisons chief’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
But Bantag’s relatives and supporters staged a demonstration in Baguio City calling for a fair investigation and said the suspended prisons chief was not corrupt.
Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong also expressed support for Bantag.
Former senator Leila de Lima, detained on what she called trumped-up drug charges, said it was improper and premature to say there were no other masterminds in the killing of Mabasa.
De Lima asked if law enforcers feared former President Rodrigo Duterte, shielding him from the International Criminal Court investigation and now the Mabasa slay probe.
Also on Thursday, Senator Grace Poe said that all journalists must be allowed to carry out their task of bringing out the truth without undue threats in pursuit of inclusive governance.
Speaking at the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas’ 48th Top-Level Conference in Tagaytay City, Poe hailed the media for exercising the “hard-won right to free speech in their day-to-day work,” which they “jealously guard and vigorously defend.”
“Unfortunately, in the course of defending press freedom, many of your comrades have fallen by the wayside,” Poe said.
“Without a doubt, the harassment and killing of journalists have compromised our collective pursuit of truth,” added Poe during the gathering that focused on prospects for reforms in broadcast regulation and press freedom.
Poe made the remark as the media industry continues to come to grips with the murder of broadcast journalist Percival Mabasa, who was shot dead on his way home to air his radio program.
The investigation on the hard-hitting commentator’s killing is unraveling a web of suspects that the senator said must be pursued.
“Our authorities must not stop until they fully untangle the plot and uncover the brains behind this baleful act,” Poe said.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has also earlier directed authorities to continue the investigation until its conclusion.
Recently, the BuCor presented assorted contraband seized inside the facility, including knives, guns, cellphones, drugs, and around 7,500 cans of beer.
During the plenary debates on the DOJ’s budget for 2023, the BuCor committed to introduce significant reforms within the agency in four months.
“We have to reorient them… We have to change the people watching over this whole system because these people have been there a long time, it’s an old refrain. It’s a very radical plan. We have to rethink the way we run our prisoners,” Remulla said.
“We will be very, very strict, that’s why we have to reorient the people… We will try to check who can work honestly because this job we’re doing is really difficult,” he added.
When asked if there are BuCor personnel who might be removed from their posts after they conduct their reevaluation, the Justice secretary said the department might offer early retirement.