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Kudos to PNP for solving Lapid, ‘Middleman’s murder

November 8, 2022 Alfred P. Dalizon 395 views

Alfred DalizonCONGRATULATIONS are in order for the Philippine National Police headed by General Jun Azurin for working hard to solve the murder of broadcaster Percy Lapid and Cristito Palaña, the New Bilibid prisoner who was ‘permanently silenced’ to prevent him from spilling the beans on the radioman’s killing.

I’m saying this as i am convinced that it was the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group headed by Brigadier Gen. Ronald Lee and the National Capital Region Police Office and the Special Investigation Task Group Lapid headed by Brig. Gen. Jonnel Estomo who were really behind the solution of the Lapid-Palaña double murder case.

Why? The case won’t be cracked if the confessed Lapid gunman Joel Escorial did not surrender to the PNP-CIDG and was immediately turned over to the SITG Lapid for full investigation. Escorial’s caliber .45 pistol was also found to be the same gun used to kill Lapid during a cross-matching examination conducted by the PNP Forensic Group.

Escorial’s surrender to the PNP-CIDG since he was already feeling the heat of a massive police manhunt and his turnover to the SITG Lapid was the ‘real breakthrough’ in the investigation of the Lapid killing. For the information of the public, it was Escorial who really spilled the beans on the Lapid murder case. In fact, it was obvious that when he was allowed by DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos to talk in front of the national media, the suspected masterminds panicked and ordered the murder of Palaña.

The PNP really had the ‘smoking gun’ in the person of Escorial who, along with the other Bureau of Corrections’ inmates accused of involvement in the killing of Lapid and Palaña are now under government protection to prevent the 100 percent possibility they would ultimately be killed too to prevent them from testifying in court.

I could not imagine what will be the progress in the Lapid case had Escorial did not turn himself over to the PNP-CIDG particularly the CIDG Regional Field Unit 4-A and was not immediately turned over to the SITG Lapid for a thorough grilling.

Actually, SITG Lapid and PNP-CIDG investigators did the legwork in finding out the real truth behind the Lapid-Palaña murders. The NCRPO-SITG Lapid and the PNP-CIDG got full support from Department of Justice Sec. Boying Remulla and his two agencies: the National Bureau of Investigation headed by Director Medardo de Lemos and the Bureau of Corrections under its new Officer-in-Charge, retired Armed Forces Gen. Greg Catapang.

The truth here, officials told me, is that during the early stages of the investigation triggered by Escorial’s confession, the BuCor then headed by Director Gerald Bantag failed to fully cooperate with the ongoing probe and in fact failed to really isolate the prisoners including Palaña who later turned up dead, obviously a murder victim too.

It was only when the PNP and the NBI discovered that Palaña has been killed that one by one, the Persons Deprived of Liberty or PDLs who have been mentioned in the investigation were secured by PNP, NBI, BJMP and Armed Forces troops and as they always say, the rest is history.

On Monday, Gen. Azurin said the rule of law will prevail in the case Lapid and Palaña.

“Justice and the rule of law shall prevail. We owe it to the family of the late Percy Mabasa and his colleagues in the media profession to deliver justice and put closure to his murder,” the top cop said.

“As we have vowed from day-one of this investigation, we will bring this case to its conclusion, whatever it takes and whoever may be indicted. With overwhelming pieces of evidence secured and the custody of the confessed gunman, Joel Escorial, we have established strong foundation to this case. It was also reinforced by object and testimonial evidences from the sister of the deceased co-conspirator Jun Villamor along with the presentation of the latter’s dying declaration,” Gen. Azurin added.

According to the top cop, the joint PNP – NBI investigation found Bantag with a motive for they Mabasa murder due to continued exposes by the victim in his radio program Percy Lapid Fire.

The PNP chief said that thru the sworn statements made by a number of Bilibid inmates, Bantag’s participation to the killing was evidenced by a clear showing of a direct line of communication from him and Deputy Security Officer (DSO) Ricardo Zulueta to prisoner Denver Mayores who subsequently relayed the instructions to other gang members.

“With these, we have a strong evidence-based case that we filed at the National Prosecution Service against several persons including suspended Bantag and Zulueta as principals by inducement; and national prisoners Denver Batungbakal Mayores, Alvin Labra, Aldrin Galicia, and Alfie Peñaredonda, as principals by indispensable cooperation for the Murder of Percy Mabasa,” Gen. Azurin said.

He added that both Bantag and Zulueta are also accused as principals by inducement in the murder of ‘middleman’ Cristito Villamor Palana along with national prisoners Labra, Galicia, Mario Alvarez, and Joseph Georfo as principals by indispensable cooperation; and national prisoners Christam Ramac, Ricky Salgado, Ronnie Dela Cruz, and Joel Reyes as principals by direct participation.

Gen. Azurin has assured the Lapid family of their continuing active collaboration with DOJ in their pursuit to bring full closure to this case. As pointed out to me by officials privy to the investigation of the case, a review of Lapid’s previous programs showed that he discussed Bantag at least three times.

During those commentaries, Lapid called out the former BuCor chief for allegedly having an expensive mansion and a fleet of cars, all charges vehemently denied by the former Bureau of Jail Management and Penology official-turned BuCor director.

Now, the best thing that Bantag and his co-accused must do is to face the charges against them by hiring the best lawyers they can afford. In fact, Zulueta has been asked by Gen. Azurin and the DILG and DOJ chiefs to surrender because his life is also in danger.

Based on statements issued by the PDLs, Palaña was “suffocated to death by a plastic bag and held by his own gang members. “The fact that they killed one of their own means and indicates that there were instructions from the top and the gang simply had no choice but to execute,” said the DOJ and DILG.

The “money trails” described by the prisoners likewise matched the bank activity of Escorial, who claimed the reward for the murder of Mabasa was P550,000. Escorial claimed he received P140,000 from the ‘hit job’ since he was the one who actually shot Lapid.

Sec. Remulla is fully optimistic that they have the beef on Bantag and company. “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,” he said.