Department of Justice

Bantag wants DOJ to distance from Percy Lapid case

Jairo Bolledo
Bantag wants DOJ to distance from Percy Lapid case

SUSPENDED. Former BuCor chief Gerald Bantag shows up at the Department of Justice with his counsel, lawyer Rocky Balisong, on December 5, 2022.

Rappler

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Charlie Guhit says the case proceedings have been suspended due to the motion for inhibition that is yet to be resolved by the panel of prosecutors

MANILA, Philippines – In another major development in the Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa case, alleged mastermind and suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General (DG) Gerald Bantag filed a motion for inhibition against the justice department.

“The Constitution states that even in the offenses falling within the jurisdiction of regular courts, the Ombudsman can conduct a preliminary investigation if these offenses committed by a public official appear to be improper and illegal,” lawyer Rocky Balisong, one of Bantag’s legal counsels, told reporters on Monday, December 5.

A motion for inhibition, according to a previous ruling by the Supreme Court, means: “a party has the right to seek the inhibition or disqualification of a judge who does not appear to be wholly free, disinterested, impartial and independent in handling the case.”

The second preliminary investigation into the consolidated complaints in relation to the cases of Lapid and Crisanto “Jun” Villamor – the alleged middleman in the Lapid case – was held at the Department of Justice (DOJ). Bantag finally showed up on Monday with his supporters, after skipping the first preliminary investigation on November 23.

In his motion, Bantag cited at least three grounds why his camp pushed for inhibition. 

  • Remulla’s impartiality toward Bantag. The petition mentioned the “open odds” between the two officials, including the justice chief’s supervision of the prosecutors in the country. 
  • Bantag has the right to due process and the right to be heard by an impartial tribunal. 
  • The justice department has no jurisdiction over Bantag’s case since it falls under the Ombudsman.

The petition also mentioned the supposed “bad blood” between Remulla and Bantag. 

“SOJ (Secretary of Justice) Remulla and DG Bantag have bad blood between them; hence, given their open animosity, the SOJ will do everything to send him to court to defend himself, regardless of the assurances of jurisprudence that a preliminary investigation is the process by which baseless and malicious complaints are prevented from being escalated to public trial to the humiliation of innocent persons,” it said.

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Charlie Guhit, in an interview with reporters, said the case proceedings have been suspended due to the motion for inhibition that would have to be resolved first by the panel of prosecutors.

Ang gagawin is, we will resolve the motion for inhibition. So we will determine whether mag-submit si respondent, DG Bantag, ng counter-affidavit kapag ka na-resolve ‘yong motion for inhibition at may ground for the panel not to inhibit (What will happen is, we will resolve the motion for inhibition. So we will determine whether respondent Bantag will file a counter-affidavit once the motion for inhibition has been resolved and there is ground for the panel not to inhibit),” Guhit explained.

“So if the panel would inhibit, assuming there’s a ground for inhibition, then another forum will hear the preliminary investigation,” he added.

Guhit said they gave all parties involved at least seven days to comment on the motion, adding that the continuation of the preliminary investigation will only be determined once the motion has been resolved.

“For purposes of the motion for inhibition, we gave the other party or parties the time to submit comment on the motion for inhibition. Upon submission of their comments, then we will resolve the motion for inhibition,” the state prosecutor said.

In separate interviews, other parties involved – including the DOJ, Lapid’s family, and the Philippine National Police (PNP) – said they will oppose the motion. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said in an interview with reporters that inhibition “is not a question.”

Executive kami, hindi kami judicial. Tingnan natin, basta inhibition is not a question here. Hindi pupuwede ‘yon.” (We are from the executive department, not judiciary. Let’s see, but inhibition is not a question here. That cannot happen.)

Police Captain Queeny Virtusio, PNP Southern Police District legal officer, said it is “within the power of the Department of Justice and the panel of prosecutors to determine whether or not there is probable cause and also regarding the preliminary investigation.”

Roy Mabasa, Lapid’s younger brother, said the “delays” are considered injustice: “Ito ay i-o-oppose namin ano, sapagkat kami naman ay may karapatan. Subalit ang sa akin lang ay, [I] will state our position that bawat araw, bawat oras na ma-delay dito ay injustice sa pamilya ni Ka Percy.”

(We will oppose this because we have the right to do so. But for me, I will state our position that every day, every hour of delay is injustice to Ka Percy’s family.)

What next?

The highly sensationalized case remains at the DOJ level after almost a month since complaints were filed against Bantag, BuCor superintendent Ricardo Zulueta, and 10 other persons deprived of liberty allegedly involved in the Lapid and Villamor cases.

Prosecutors, who are under the DOJ, have the power to determine whether or not to pursue the complaints and file them before the courts. Bantag is asking the DOJ to inhibit or distance itself from the case, which also means he is asking the DOJ’s panel of prosecutors to stop handling the cases.

The motion for inhibition also prolongs the proceedings since it needs o be resolved first, before the investigation can resume.

Balisong said that they want the DOJ to inhibit due to impartiality and lack of jurisdiction. Bantag’s camp argued that the BuCor chief’s complaint should be processed by the Office of the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan since Bantag’s salary grade is at 30.

Section 4 (a) (1) of Republic Act No. 10660, which further strengthened the mandates of the Sandiganbayan, states that the special court has jurisdiction over public officials with salary grade 27 or higher.

But, the Ombudsman argued in the Honasan vs. DOJ case in 2004 that the DOJ’s concurrent authority with the Ombudsman to conduct a preliminary investigation into cases of public officials was recognized in Sanchez vs. Demetriou.Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering the police, crime, military, and security.