CHARGED. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla (left) and Interior  Secretary Benjamin Abalos update newsmen about the Percy Lapid killing.  Remulla said murder charges were filed against former and present officials of the Bureau of Correction (BuCor). (Photo by Benjamin Pulta)

MANILA — The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday announced the filing of murder complaints against suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag in connection with the ambush-slay of broadcast commentator Percival “Ka Percy Lapid” Mabasa.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Philippine National Police, and the National Bureau of Investigation have filed murder complaints against Bantag, BuCor Deputy Security Officer Ricardo Zulueta, and persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) linked to the death of Lapid and the supposed middleman in the case earlier identified as Jun or Crisanto Villamor.

The PDLs facing murder complaints were identified as Mario Alvarez, Joseph Georfo, Christam Ramac, Ricky Salgado, Ronnie Dela Cruz, and Joel Reyes.

“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. So it’s a totality test,” Remulla said.

He added that “the totality of all the acts points out to the participation of and responsibility of those being charged.”

Remulla urged Bantag and Zulueta to give themselves up and face the charges.

“I’d like to ask Zulueta and DG Bantag to surrender and face the charges. If they are innocent, the law will uphold them and if they are guilty then they have to face the consequence,” the justice official said.

Remulla, however, added that he has already ordered a lookout bulletin against the two officials of BuCor.

Bantag was one of the 160 “persons of interest” in the Lapid case earlier identified by the PNP.

NBI lawyer Eugene Javier said that witnesses’ statements showed there was a “clear and direct line of communication” from Bantag and Zulueta to gang leaders who then communicated with Labra and later coordinated with Galicia.

It was Galicia who orchestrated and executed the killing of Lapid through his gang members and the latter’s contacts outside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

This, he said, led to the participation of the self-confessed gunman, Joel Escorial, and his accomplices.

It was also found out in the investigation that Bantag had a clear motive to order the killing of Lapid because of the latter’s continued exposė against the former on his show, “Lapid Fire”.

And as for Villamor, “it was an attempt to cover up the murder of Percy Lapid.”

Lapid, a hard-hitting tabloid and radio commentator was gunned down on Oct. 3 in Las Pinas City.

Due process

In the same briefing, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. assured that Bantag and other accused in the case will be accorded due process.

This came after the suspended corrections chief earlier said he would rather die than go to jail while denying involvement in the killing of the veteran broadcaster.

Kung ano ang mangyari na proseso, alam naman natin may proseso po ito, may karapatan ang isa para sagutin ang bintang sa kanya. Kung ano ang maging desisyon kailangan ipapatupad po namin ito at andiyan po ang NBI at PNP para ipatupad ang magiging desisyon po dito sa kasong ito (As for the process, we know that there is a process, one has the right to answer the accusation against him. Whatever the decision is, we must implement it and the NBI and PNP are there to implement the decision in this case),” Abalos told reporters.

Retired military chief Gregorio Catapang Jr. took over the helm of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) as its officer in charge following President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s order to place Bantag under indefinite preventive suspension following the death of Jun Villamor, an inmate tagged as the alleged “middleman” in the killing of the journalist.

The NBI said in its timeline of events, the order to kill Mabasa was coursed through six layers before it reached confessed gunman Joel Escorial.

Bantag and Zulueta were named principals by inducement while the others were principals by indispensable cooperation.

The filing of the cases came after the NBI and PNP secured persons of interest (POIs), who are mostly persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), who provided vital information about the killings.

PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin said Zulueta has been in hiding a few days ago while there is no arrest warrant yet against Bantag.

Authorities are now locating Zulueta and Bantag.

In a statement, the PNP chief also expressed hope that justice and the rule of law shall prevail.

"With overwhelming pieces of evidence secured and the custody of the confessed gunman, Joel Escorial, we have established strong foundation for this case. It was also reinforced by object and testimonial evidence from the sister of the deceased co-conspirator Jun Villamor along with the presentation of the latter’s dying declaration," he added.

Azurin also assured the slain broadcaster's family of the PNP's continued collaboration with the DOJ in the pursuit to bring full closure to the case.

"We likewise assure our journalists and the public in general that the PNP is doing its best to prevent the occurrence of similar crimes in our communities to provide a safer place to live and enjoy for the Filipino people," he said.

Meanwhile, Malacañang expressed hope that the filing of murder charges against Bantag would mean that justice will be served to the family of Mabasa.

“The President is aware of the situation and hopefully it will pave the way para talagang (so that) justice will be served to the family of Mabasa,” Undersecretary Cheloy Garafil, officer-in-charge of the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) said in a Palace press briefing. (with report from Azer Parrocha/Anne Lorraine Bustamante and Irish Marie Caidoy-trainees/PNA)