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Bantag, others sued over Lapid, middleman murders

November 7, 2022 Hector Lawas 349 views

THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Philippine National Police (PNP) on Monday filed two cases of murder against suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag and several others, including “gang leaders”, in connection with the murder of broadcaster Percy Lapid, and the subsequent death of middleman Jun Villamor.

The filing of the cases came to the fore after the NBI and PNP secured persons of interest (POIs) – who are mostly persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) – that provided essential information about the twin killings.

For the murder of Lapid, charged were Director General Gerald Q. Bantag, BuCor deputy security chief Ricardo S. Zulueta as principals by inducement. PDLs Denver B. Mayores, Alvin C. Labra, Aldrin M. Galicia, and Alfie Peñaredonda are likewise charged as principals by indispensable cooperation.

For the murder of Villamor, charged were Bantag and BuCor deputy security chief Zulueta as principals by inducement. PDLs Labra, Galicia, Mario G. Alvarez, and Joesph Medel Georfo are charged as principals by indispensable cooperation.

PDLs Christam D. Ramac, Ricky L. Salgado, Ronnie P. Dela Cruz, and Joel A. Reyes were also charged as principals by direct participation.

‘Evidence points to Bantag’

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that evidence provided by witnesses, who are mostly inmates, have pointed to Bantag as “chief architect” behind the murders of Lapid and Villamor.

“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.

It’s not for us to point out the direct link, but the totality of all the acts points out to the participation of and responsibility of those being charged,” Remulla said in a joint press conference with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr.

When asked if probers gave Bantag due process before the filing of the cases with the DOJ, Remulla said that prosecutors will subpoena Bantag along with several others to refute the charges filed against them.

“No subpoena was issued. (But) That will come (later on) because the case was filed already. That will be the fiscal’s call,” Remulla said.

“The fear of Gen. Bantag is just tremendous and unbelievable from the eyes of these PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) so that maybe we can say that we thought it best that in conducting the (preliminary) investigation that we let Gen. Bantag answer the charges formally with the fiscal’s office,” he added.

‘Bantag urged to surrender’

During the joint press conference, Remulla and Abalos called on Bantag and Zulueta to turn themselves in.

“This sequence of events implies that the conspirators planned all along to silence Jun Villamor and cover up the crime, perhaps even before Joel Escorial’s surrender,” a press statement read.

“This concerted and coordinated effort of both the DOJ and the DILG is a war against impunity and the continuous and gross disregard of the rule of law,” it added.

‘Uncooperative prison execs’

When self-confessed Percy Lapid gunman Joel Escorial named Villamor as the “middleman”, authorities immediately buckled down to secure the latter, but all efforts to get his custody went in vain.

“In an effort to secure Jun Villamor within NBP (New Bilibid Prison), the investigators requested NBP but instead faced resistance, subterfuge, excuses, and all kinds of rebuffs so that NBP officials could avoid the delivery of the inmate to their custody,” the NBI-PNP report showed.

According to the report, the PNP, on October 17, 2022, communicated with BuCor officials to secure Villamor’s custody but prison officers supposedly denied that there was anyone by that name within their facility.

On October 18, 2022, the PNP filed murder charges against Escorial and other co-conspirators, including Villamor, making the existence of the co-conspirators a public record. Still, BuCor remained silent.

Later the same day, the chief of the Southern District Police Station (SPD) of Las Piñas, P/Col. Jimmy Santos, who heads the Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) for the Percy Lapid slay, proceeded to NBP to secure Villamor.

Again, the report showed that Santos was met with much resistance despite the information already having been made public.

“The receiving BuCor officials hesitated to even touch the request letter indicating that they would be killed if they entertained such a request. They stamped the request letter and handed back the original copy. P/Col. Santos knew at that moment they would not act at all on the request,” the report said.

On October 19, 2022, another team from the PNP requested the custody of Villamor within NBP, and the same was again denied. It was only on October 20, 2022, that BuCor officials admitted that Villamor was dead already.

‘Corrections system’s ugliest side’

The October 3 murder has unmasked the transformation of the country’s corrections system into “a deep, large-scale and systematic criminal organization.”

“From the very beginning, the tragic shooting of Percy Lapid indicated that it was part of a larger scheme stemming from a deeper motive… what was discovered from the in-depth investigation of Mr. Lapid’s death was the unfortunate transformation of a pillar of justice – the correction pillar – into a deep, large-scale and systematic criminal organization.”

“…(it will) show that a criminal organization exists and is embedded within a government office – and that office is none other than the Bureau of Corrections, which controls what the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs describes as the biggest mega-prison in the world,” the statement continued.