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Alleged ‘middleman’ in Lapid slay dies in NBP; BuCor chief suspended

October 21, 2022 Alfred P. Dalizon 254 views

Abalos orders tight security on other ‘players’

A NEW Bilibid Prisons’ (NBP) inmate who may have identified the “mastermind” behind the murder of radio broadcaster Percy Lapid died just hours after the confessed gunman was presented to the national media by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. last Tuesday.

Abalos said that the remains of the inmate, identified as “Cristano Palana Villamor”, had been subjected to an autopsy to determine the real cause of his death.

“In truth, we truly regret what happened. I hope everyone understands that the police worked so hard on this case. Once we learn that there is a foul play here, we will really get mad, we’ll be very furious. We are demanding that those responsible will be held to account,” said the DILG chief on Thursday night.

There were suspicions that, indeed, the inmate did not die of “natural death.” Cases of prisoners being choked, beaten, or poisoned to death are common in overcrowded jail facilities in the country.

“Apparently, those behind the death of the prisoner were watching the live telecast of confessed gunman Joel Escorial at Camp Crame, that there could be a real effort to silence him and prevent him from squealing,” said a police official on condition of anonymity.

Villamor was reported “dead on arrival” at the NBP hospital in Muntinlupa City around 2:05 p.m. last Tuesday, barely three hours after the end of a press conference at Camp Crame where Abalos allowed Escorial to speak in front of the media.

When he spoke in front of television cameras, Escorial said that a “Bilibid insider” was behind the contract killing. The confessed suspect, charged with murder and illegally possessing a firearm, claimed that they were paid a total of P550,000 to kill Lapid, whose real name is Percival Mabasa, and that he received P140,000 for firing the shots that killed the radio block-timer.

The confessed gunman surrendered to the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) under Brigadier General Ronald O. Lee last Monday and was immediately turned over to the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) headed by Brig. Gen. Jonnel C. Estomo.

He has been under the custody of the Special Investigation Task Group Lapid, with Abalos assuring the public that “he is in very safe hands.”

Abalos earlier called on the other suspects in the Lapid killing to surrender as there is a big possibility they may end up dead on orders of the real mastermind.

A 2nd “middleman”, identified as Christopher Bacoto, who is facing a drug-related case and is being held in a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) lock-up facility, is already being secured. The BJMP is also under the supervision of the DILG, just like the PNP.

Abalos last Tuesday said that Escorial succumbed to the pressure of police manhunt operations which prompted him to surrender. “This significant development in the case is the product of good police work, careful backtracking and scientific investigation that uncovered leads to build-up an airtight case,” the DILG chief said.

In a news conference held in Camp Crame, Abalos announced the surrender of Escorial and presented the self-confessed gunman to the media. He also showed computer-generated images of the two other suspects, brothers Israel and Edmon Dimaculangan, whom Estorial mentioned in his confession.

Escorial said that a 3rd suspect, whom he identified only as alias “Orly” gave them the instructions to kill Lapid.

In front of national television, Estorial told Abalos that Orly instructed them that whoever is closest to Percy will be the shooter. He also recounted Orly’s alleged instructions, “kung hindi mo babarilin, ikaw ang babarilin”.

Escorial told Abalos that he surrendered because he was bothered by his conscience and that he feared for his life. Abalos later begged off further media requests to interview Escorial.

Meanwhile, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Chief Gerald Bantag has been slapped with a 90-day “preventive suspension” over the mysterious death of an inmate who supposedly relayed the order to kill broadcaster Percy Lapid last October 3.

Bantag’s preventive suspension was ordered by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. himself, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said in an early morning press conference on Friday.

BuCor is an attached agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“I went to the President to tell him about this (death of the inmate). He asked me to preventively suspend Director General Bantag of BuCor, so that there may be a fair, impartial investigation on the matter,” Remulla said.

Bantag will be replaced by former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang Jr. in an Officer-in-Charge (OIC) capacity.

In a related development, Abalos has also ordered the PNP and BJMP, which are in the custody of the “players” in the killing of the veteran radio broadcaster, to ensure their safety following the “surprising” death of the alleged middleman.

The confessed gunman, Escorial is under tight security of the police while the other alleged middleman is detained in one of the facilities in the BJMP-National Capital Region.

BJMP Chief Director Allan Iral said that the bureau will fully cooperate with the PNP in the conduct of the investigation as he assured the safety of the “player” under their care.

In confirming the custody, the Jail Bureau chief told Journal Group that he had already directed the warden of the facility to isolate this PDL (person deprived of liberty) from other detainees.

“Yes nasa atin yong isa, kaya pinapabantayan ni SILG [Abalos],” Iral said in a text message.

Earlier, Abalos said that the DILG and the PNP were surprised and, at the same time, upset with the turnout of the event upon learning of the unexpected death of the alleged middleman at the NBP.

“Inaatasan ko ang PNP na higpitan ang pagbabantay kay Joel Escorial pagkatapos ng masamang nangyari sa mga contact niya sa Bilibid. Siguruhin natin ang kanyang kaligtasan dahil siya ang susi sa pagresolba ng kasong ito . . .Hinayang na hinayang kami sa nangyari na ito, sana maunawaan ng lahat na pinaghirapan ng PNP ang kasong ito. Day 1 pa lang ay nag-offer na tayo ng reward at halos araw-araw ay talagang pinagpaguran ito ng Task Force Lapid talagang binack-track ito hanggang sa matunton natin itong gunman. It has really been hardwork on the part of our PNP,” he said.

Justice Secretary Remulla reported that the other alleged middleman died at the NBP hospital on Tuesday, the same day Escorial decided to surrender, saying he feared for his and his family’s safety.

According to the justice secretary, the alleged player was known by three names; Crisanto Villamor, Jun Globa Villamor, and Jun Garcia Villamor.

A mad Abalos said that the “middleman’s” death may be a roadblock to the development and possible quick solution of this high-profile Percy-Lapid killing case, although he assured that the DILG and the PNP will not let go of this mission even with the latest turn of events.

Abalos presented Escorial to the media (October 18, 2022) following an extensive investigation of the PNP, leading to the arrest of the suspect. A bounty of P6.5-million was also circulated to the public to whoever will point to the location of the killer.

The incident he pointed out, will only motivate the DILG and PNP to work harder to ensure the murder case’s resolution and bring justice to the family of Percy Lapid. “Huwag kayong mag-alala, ngayon lalo kaming magdo-double time to make sure that whatever other pieces of evidence ay makalap at matunton natin ang mastermind nito.” By Alfred Dalizon, Hector Lawas & Joel Dela Torre