Hits Remulla for ‘targeting’ him, dares him to resign
Suspended prisons chief Gerard Bantag finally broke his silence and maintained his innocence after he was tagged as the mastermind in the murder of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa.
Bantag’s lawyer, Rocky Balisong, said his client is ready to face the charges against him.
“What he is saying is ‘I will clear my name; I don’t have anything to do with that crime. I will face the case,” Balisong told CNN Philippines.
In a separate interview with SMNI, Bantag turned the tables on Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, whom he challenged to resign.
“You’re a liar, SOJ (Secretary of Justice). I challenge you to step down. They say you don’t have credibility anymore, that you no longer have moral ascendancy in your post,” Bantag said.
Bantag also addressed the statement of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that he “established his own fiefdom” in the Bilibid and “moved with no fear of being punished.”
“We can’t do anything with the President’s reaction because that is based on the report of the (Justice) secretary. But the question is, are they giving you the truth?” he said.
Mr. Marcos, who was then on his way to Phnom Pehn, said Bantag’s involvement was “terrible” even as he said the investigation should continue when asked if he believes the buck stops with the suspended Bureau of Corrections chief.
In a separate press conference on Friday, DOJ spokesperson Assistant Secretary Mico Clavano said “nobody wanted the evidence to point” to Bantag, who he said may have felt a “misguided sense of betrayal.”
“The Department of Justice understands the predicament of DG Bantag. His words and actions, no matter how personal and inappropriate, come from a misguided sense of betrayal,” Clavano said.
“(But) there is only one issue at hand, the related murders of Percy Lapid and Jun Villamor. Let us not muddle the issue, let us not clutch at straws,” Clavano added.
In a statement released late Friday evening, the DOJ said: “The list of persons-of-interest was long, including some politicians, government officials and other big names. The DOJ is one with the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police in gathering evidence such as sworn statements of inmates, ballistics analysis, CCTV footages, and money trails, among others.”
“There is a right place and time to formally release the results of our investigation, but for now we have charged two respondents. They can answer this through a counter-affidavit,” the DOJ said.
Aside from Bantag, BuCor Deputy Security Officer Ricardo Zulueta was also slapped with murder raps for the deaths of Mabasa and alleged middleman, NBP inmate Cristito “Jun Villamor” Palaña.
Bantag on Friday hurled several accusations against Remulla, starting with the drug case of the Justice Secretary’s son. He also accused the Remulla patriarch of being involved in drugs
“People say there might also be a middleman who would appear in the case of your son. And there could also be a mastermind… People say you might be the mastermind in the importation of marijuana… Don’t you use marijuana, SOJ Boying Remulla?” Bantag said.
He claimed Remulla was using his position as Justice chief to become popular in time for the 2025 elections.
“Step down. You no longer have credibility. You are a disgrace to the DOJ. You’re using the DOJ to become famous, what for, for 2025?”
He also alleged that Remulla has money from a POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator) after selling his Island Cove property.
“The people say you have a lot of money. you just need exposure for 2025,” he said.
He went further by insinuating that Remulla wanted to “control the drug lords.”
“I was the target of your group. In BuCor, you want to control drug lords there?” Bantag said.
Bantag, however, corrected his earlier statement that he and the government should just kill each other.
“I will take this opportunity to correct my statements earlier. Because of my frustration, I said, I will fight against this government. That’s foolishness. Who am I to fight the government? I am a small fry. I will bite, yes, but not this government. (I will bite) syndicates,” he said.
Bantag claimed Remulla ordered the transfer of a prisoner—German Agojo—from inside the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).
Agojo, who is under the Witness Protection Program, is connected to the self-confessed gunman, Joel Escorial.
“Agojo is connected to Villamor (Palaña) who died and the gunman Escorial. They are involved in the killing of a judge in Tagaytay, Cavite,” he said, adding that Agojo’s men were the ones who killed Mabasa.
Meanwhile, inmate Christopher Bacoto, who allegedly served as the second middleman in the killing of Mabasa, has submitted his counter-affidavit denying any involvement in the crime.
Bacoto’s lawyer Salvador Quimpo said the counter-affidavit was submitted during the preliminary investigation of the murder complaints in connection with the killing of Mabasa and alleged first middleman Palaña.
“According to Joel Escorial, it was Bacoto who talked to him even for the payment. So we drafted a counter-affidavit denying all of it because Christopher has been jailed in a high detention facility for almost four years and there is no possibility that he will be visited by someone who is not his relative or counsel,” Quimpo said.
The Department of Justice earlier said Escorial claimed that Bacoto talked to his companions to help him in killing Lapid while Palaña promised to pay them P550,000.
According to Quimpo, Bacoto knew of Escorial but had never talked to him.