MANILA, Philippines – Suspended Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Bantag and BuCor Directorate for Security and Operations Superintendent Ricardo Zulueta – both tagged in the killing of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa – are still in the country, authorities said on Wednesday, November 9.
Asked if the two BuCor officials were still in the country, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told reporters: “I would say so. Remember, they are government officials. ‘Di ka puwedeng umalis ng Pilipinas kapag wala kang travel authority (You cannot leave the Philippines if you don’t have travel authority), unless they have secured passports, which do not reflect their true professions.”
In an interview on ANC, lawyer Eugene Javier, a supervising agent at the National Bureau of Investigation, said they had information that both Bantag and Zulueta were still in the country.
“Yes, we’re trying to secure a precautionary hold departure order [through] the cooperation of the prosecutor. Although we have information that both people are still in the country,” Javier said.
Bantag and Zulueta, along with 10 persons deprived of liberty, are facing murder complaints for the death of Lapid and Jun Villamor, the alleged middleman in the Lapid case. Authorities said Bantag and Zulueta, who oversaw the New Bilibid Prison, are the alleged masterminds behind the killing of the hard-hitting broadcaster.
Authorities earlier said that Zulueta had gone into hiding.
Javier said on Wednesday that according to Bantag’s legal counsels, the suspended corrections chief was not in hiding.
“Right now, we’re not actively trying to look for Director General Bantag because he doesn’t have a warrant of arrest out for him. And even his lawyers say, well, he’s not in hiding. So I don’t see the point why we have to locate him right now,” the NBI agent said.
On other interventions the government can take, Javier said the best thing to do is for Bantag and Zulueta to cooperate in the case since there were no outstanding warrants against them.
Lapid visited Bantag’s house
During the media interview, Remulla cited another important development in Lapid’s case: Lapid’s visit to Bantag’s house weeks before he was killed. He said this information is based on the new evidence shared with him by the prosecution.
According to the DOJ chief, Lapid went to Bantag’s house in Laguna on September 9 to take photos of the suspended BuCor chief’s house and vehicles.
“Si Percy Lapid nagpunta sa bahay niya [Bantag] sa Laguna…. Pagkatapos no’n, lumabas ‘yong ‘Cinderella Man’ ni Percy Lapid. That was the basis. That day itself, noong nalaman ni Bantag…na nandoon si Percy Lapid sa Laguna, medyo nagalit,” Remulla said.
(Percy Lapid went to Bantag’s house in Laguna. After that, Percy Lapid’s “Cinderella Man” story aired. That was the basis. That day itself, when Bantag found out that Percy Lapid was there, he became a bit mad.)
Remulla said Bantag’s non-appearance in an important event inside Bilibid on September 9 indicated that he was angered by Lapid’s commentary, which aired on September 6. He was apparently referring to the graduation ceremony for inmates at the University of Perpetual Help System Dalta (UPHSD) Extension School inside the Medium Security Compound of Bilibid on September 9.
“He went back to Laguna and then ‘di na siya umattend ng graduation…. ‘Yung kanyang hindi pagbalik doon is a sign also that he was very mad; he was very, very livid about it,” Remulla said.
(He went back to Laguna and then he did not attend the graduation [inside Bilibid]…. His decision not to go back is also a sign that he was very mad; he was very, very livid about it.)
The plot to kill Lapid was supposedly hatched on September 17, according to Remulla. Lapid was gunned down on October 3, allegedly by Joel Escorial’s team – who had confessed to be the gunman.
At first, Escorial only implicated Villamor, brothers Edmon and Israel Dimaculangan, a certain “Orly,” and Christopher Bacoto. However, a few days before Bantag was slapped with complaints, Escorial revealed in his affidavit that a certain “Bantag” ordered them to kill the broadcaster. – Rappler.com