BAGUIO, Philippines – Suspended Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag, an accused in the murder of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and alleged middleman Jun Villamor, now presents himself as a champion of “ordinary Filipinos.”
Surrounded by more than a thousand supporters from the Cordillera during a protest rally on Friday, December 9, Bantag told reporters: “Hindi ito laban ng Igorot lang, o ng Ilokano, o Pangalatoc, ng kadugo ko. Para ito sa maliliit at ordinaryomg Pilipno. Dahil kung kaya nila sa akin yan lalong kaya nila sa maliit.”
(This fight isn’t just for the Igorot or the Ilokano, or the Pangalatoc who are of my blood. This is for the small and ordinary Filipino. Because if they can do this to me, then much more to the small folk.) can do it to the lowly.)
Bantag, who hails from the Cordillera, received a rockstar welcome at Ibaloi Park, after riding a horse as hundreds of followers marched on Session road.
Attendees at the gathering included individuals from overseas, the province of Laguna, and Cabugao and Sinait, Ilocos Sur.
Last November 5, Bantag supporters also held a program in the city to call for his reinstatement.
Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong earlier called on Bantag supporters to exercise calm and objectivity.
Rocky Balisong, Bantag’s lead counsel, said they are waiting for the comment of the complainants – the Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, and the Mabasa family – on their motion asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to inhibit from the case.
Explaining why they filed the motion, the lawyer claimed previous statements by DOJ Secretary Crispin Remulla showed prejudging of his client.
“The DOJ is exercising quasi-judicial function dito, ibig sabihin they will decide on the case on the finding of probable cause. Kaya hinihingi namin na [mag-inhibit], since prine-judge na ng head ng departamento yung kaso,” Balisong explained.
(The DOJ is exercising a quasi-judicial function here, which means they will decide on the case on the finding of probable cause. That is why we are asking [for inhibition] since the head of the department already prejudged the case)
“Ang naglalaban kasi sa kasong ito is yung camp ni general Bantag versus itong mga complainants.… Ang lumalabas kasi parang kasi parang ang DOJ ang kalaban ng Bantag camp…kaya nga sabi ko sa ibang interview ko, nagiging three in one, sila na yung complainant, sila na ang investigator, sila pa ang magiging judge,” he added.
(The parties at odds in the case are the camp of General Bantag versus the complainants…(but) it seems that it is the DOJ against the Bantag camp…. In my previous interviews, I said that [DOJ] is performing three functions now – they are the complainant, the investigator, and the judge.)
He said that Department Circular No. 027, issued by Remulla on July 13, provides that all decisions of the panel of prosecutors are subject to the DOJ secretary’s review.
“So with all his [Remulla] pronouncements convicting our clients, ano pa ang maasahan nati dito,” Balisong said, stressing the need to transfer the preliminary investigation to the Ombudsman.
Bantag was was regional director of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology for the Mimaropa region before his appointment as Bucor chief. The graduate of the Philippine National Police Academy (Kaagapay class of 1996) also served as the warden for the city jails of Valenzuela, Navotas, Malabon, Manila, and Parañaque.
Bantag in his various posts faced multiple cases. In August 2016, while he was warden of the Parañaque City jail, he was accused of planning a grenade explosion that killed 10 “high-profile” inmates. He was acquitted in January 2020 due to lack of evidence.