MANILA, Philippines – Suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director general Gerald Bantag was named one of the 160 persons of interest in the murder of hard-hitting journalist Percy Lapid, the Philippine National Police (PNP) confirmed on Monday, October 24.
PNP chief Police General Rodolfo Azurin said Bantag was included in the list because he was one of the personalities Lapid criticized in his radio program, Lapid Fire.
Azurin said the police have yet to determine who among the persons of interest was most likely to have had a motive to order a hit against Lapid. He said investigators were tallying who “had the most issues” with Lapid criticizing them in the show.
“But not necessarily naman na, dahil ikaw ang pinakamarami, ay ikaw na rin ‘yung suspect. Kaya ang sabi ko is very critical yung statement nung, ‘yung mga iniimbestighan ngayon na nasa custody ng PNP in the same manner as yung mga inmates ni [Crisanto] Villamor na kasama niya doon sa selda dahil most probably may mga alam din sila,” said Azurin.
(But it does not necessarily mean that just because you had the most [criticisms], that you are also the suspect. That’s why I said that the statements of those in the custody of the PNP, and in the same manner, the inmates that were detained with with [Crisanto] Villamor are critical, because they probably had information, too.)
Self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial earlier named a certain Crisanto Villamor as an accomplice inside the New Bilibid Prison who made the order to kill Lapid.
Escorial surrendered to authorities and implicated Villamor on October 17. This means authorities had time to look for and secure the alleged middleman, but Villamor died on October 18. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that it was only on October 19 that Muntinlupa police went to Bilibid to inquire about a certain Crisanto Villamor.
As Villamor died under Bantag’s watch, Bantag was put under preventive suspension.
Bilibid, the day Villamor died
According to BuCor deputy director general and spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag, Villamor died in Bilibid before the BuCor was informed that the PNP was looking for him. There was confusion among authorities because the alleged middleman had three different names in the justice department’s records.
Chaclag told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Monday, October 24, that on October 18, the inmates were watching news reports of Escorial’s confession on the television in their dormitory’s common area. He reported that Villamor might have been watching it as well. Chaclag personally was not monitoring the report at the time as he was attending to other work matters in his office, he said.
“Lahat sila, ganoon ang sinasabi nila. Na nakita nila, nandoon lang sila, nanonood sila ng TV, and then later on nagkakape si ano, siguro narinig din niya yung pronouncement,” said Chaclag.
(That’s what they all said. That they saw him, they were just there watching TV, and then later on [Villamor] was having coffee, and he probably heard the pronouncement.)
The BuCor spokesperson said that Villamor went up to his cell after watching the report and having coffee. But after lunch, he never went down from his cell. He was found unconscious and brought to the hospital.
Chaclag said, a day after Villamor died, October 19, the PNP came looking for a certain “Crisanto Villamor” in Bilibid based on the Escorial’s confession.
“Hindi naman po natin alam na ‘yun pala yung tinutukoy nila (We did not know that [the detainee who died] was the one they were looking for),” said Chaclag.
Remulla earlier said that “Jun Villamor y Globa” was the name of the Villamor in the BuCor’s records, and that they were certain that “Crisanto” and “Jun” were the same person.
“Probably talagang kinabahan siguro, kung totoong siya yung contact ng ano, dahil meron siyang previous heart ailments eh (He was probably rattled if he was really the middleman, because he had previous heart ailments),” Chaclag added on Villamor’s sudden death.
Sense of urgency
Azurin questioned the BuCor’s sense of urgency in the investigation. He said on Monday that the police did an “initial coordination” with the BuCor, but did not mention when this occurred.
“Ang tanong nga namin diyan is kung hindi man nakausap ng nag-coordinate kay General Bantag mismo, bakit hindi nila pinarating kay Bantag… Ano ‘yung reason nila, di ba nila nakita yung sense of urgency ng ongoing investigation na kailangan ay ma-resolve natin yung kaso? Or kung nakarating man kay Director Bantag yung initial coordination na yun, ano ang mga actions na ginawa niya?” said Azurin.
(Our question is, if our investigators were unable to coordinate with General Bantag himself, why didn’t the BuCor elevate it to Bantag? What is their reason, didn’t the see the sense of urgency of the ongoing investigation that we needed to solve the case? Or if the initial coordination reached Director Bantag, what were the actions he made?)
Azurin has not ruled out foul play in Villamor’s death, despite the National Bureau of Investigation’s initial report saying he died with “no apparent sign of external physical injury.”
“It’s an unfortunate incident, but the timing is questionable,” said Azurin. – Rappler.com