MANILA, Philippines – Former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director general Gerald Bantag, who was recently suspended over the death of the alleged middleman in the Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa case, criticized the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
In an interview with broadcaster Anthony Taberna, the former BuCor chief aired some of his sentiments against certain officials of the current administration, including Interior chief Benhur Abalos, who held a press briefing, where self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial was presented.
Referring to the alleged middleman Jun Villamor in the Percy Lapid killing, Bantag said: “Kung totoong pinatay ‘yong Villamor [na] ‘yan, kasalanan nila ‘yon. Ba’t kasi nila in-expose na, ‘Oh, ito na ‘yong gunman ninyo.’ Ano’ng gagawin ngayon? Meron palang middleman, mayroon pa palang mastermind. Eh ‘di nagkalintik-lintikan na.”
(If indeed Villamor was killed, it’s their fault. Why did they expose and say, “Here’s the gunman.” What to do now? As it turned out, there was a middleman, a mastermind. Now it’s all messed up.)
Bantag said the government messed it up – and if only the probe was done correctly, the case would have already been solved by now and the alleged middleman would not have died.
Lapid, a broadcaster and staunch critic of former and current administrations, was gunned down in Las Piñas on October 3. Days after his death, Abalos presented Escorial, who said he has companions and a middleman inside the New Bilibid Prison – under the BuCor.
However, only a few days later, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said Villamor died inside the national penitentiary. Bantag, who oversaw BuCor, was sacked and replaced by Aquino-time former military chief Gregorio Catapang Jr.
Based on the case’s timeline, Escorial surrendered on October 17, and was presented to the public the following day. Villamor died inside Bilibid on October 18 – which means the authorities had time to secure the alleged middleman before he was killed and died of suffocation with a plastic bag.
Warning to Marcos
Bantag also took a swipe at his successor, adding that Marcos should be careful of the officials he appoints.
“Hindi ba niya alam na si General Catapang, miyembro ng RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) ‘yan? Na nagpatalsik din sa tatay niya noon. ‘Di ba niya alam na si Catapang ay nilagay niya ‘yong mga questionable doon ngayon?” the former BuCor chief said. (Doesn’t he know that General Catapang is a member of RAM, among those who ousted his father back then? Doesn’t he know that Catapang appointed questionable officials in the BuCor now?)
“Kailangan maging watchful ka, Mr. President, Pangulong BBM po, dahil baka ‘yan magiging downfall mo (You should be watchful, Mr. President, President BBM, because that could be your downfall),” he added.
Bantag was put under preventive suspension a day after Remulla announced that Villamor died inside Bilibid. Remulla said Bantag’s suspension would ensure an impartial probe.
Remulla said Catapang was Marcos Jr.’s personal pick. Incidentally, the acting BuCor chief and Remulla share the same fraternity: Upsilon Sigma Phi.
Meanwhile, Bantag also alleged that Catapang is among those who benefited from his suspension – along with “corrupt” BuCor officials, drug lords, and those who wanted him out.
Bantag said: “Siyempre, ang unang makikinabang diyan, ‘yong gusto akong masibak diyan. Itong si Catapang na nag-surface sa akin no’ng August pa lang, eh definitely siya ang nakinabang.” (Of course, the first person who will benefit from my suspension are those who wanted me out. Catapang, who surfaced as early as August, definitely benefited.)
When asked by Taberna if he feels like he is being pinned down as the alleged mastermind in the case, Bantag responded: “Parang ako na nga. Kasi ang dami – 160 – bakit hindi i-relieve ‘yon ng BJMP [Bureau of Jail Management and Penology] na sinasabing nando’n din ‘yong middleman. Sa bagay, hindi siguro namatay ‘yon pero, ano ngayon ang safeguard din na ginagawa nila?” Bantag said.
(It seems that it’s me. Because there are many others – 160 – why doesn’t the BJMP relieve them when the middleman was said to be among them too. In hindsight, the middleman might not have died, but what safeguards are they putting in place now?)
“Nasa’n? Expose din ninyo ‘yong ano, ‘yong 159, baka tumakas din eh. Baka nando’n sila. Bakit sila naka-ano lang sa akin?” he added. (Where are they? Expose them too, the other 159 might escape also. Maybe they are there. Why are you just focusing on me?)
An emboldened Bantag said he will not allow himself to be jailed.
“Ipapahintulot ko bang makulong ako? Patayin na lang ninyo ako kasi alam ko mangyayari sa akin do’n eh. ‘Di naman ako [katulad ng] mga senador, mga nakulong na mga big-time na sabihing proteksyonan ‘yan. Na kung sasabihin nilang ako target nila? Magpapatayan na lang kami ng gobyernong ito,” the former BuCor chief said.
(Would I allow myself to be jailed? Just kill me because I know what will happen to me inside the jail. I am not like other senators, big-time personalities who could be protected. And if they say I am their target? This government and I should just kill each other.)
After Bantag’s relief, the Philippine National Police (PNP) named the former BuCor chief one of the 160 persons of interest in the Lapid case. PNP chief Police General Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said Bantag was included because he was one of the personalities the slain broadcaster criticized in his radio program, Lapid Fire.
Bantag used the hostage-taking incident of former senator Leila de Lima to argue that other agency heads should have been relieved, too. According to him, Azurin should have been relieved because persons under PNP custody had died.
“De Lima, hinostage. Patay ang tatlo. Hindi ba tatlo ‘yan? Ba’t hindi mo rin i-relieve ang chief PNP? Tatlong buhay ‘yon, isa kay Percy Lapid,” Bantag said. (De Lima was held hostage. Three died. Aren’t those three? Why didn’t you also relieve the PNP chief? Those are three lives, one of them Percy Lapid’s.)
“Hindi siguro dapat siyang masibak. Pero basing on my experience, sa naging situation ko, dapat sibak din siya (Maybe he shouldn’t be relieved. But basing on my experience, on my situation, he should be sacked too),” he added.
In Bantag’s call for the relief of Azurin, there is, however, a clear difference between the De Lima and Lapid cases.
In De Lima’s case, three persons under PNP custody were killed because they were trying to escape, while one held the former senator hostage and threatened to kill her. In the Lapid case, however, Villamor, the supposed middleman who was key in the probe, was killed under Bantag’s watch – inside Bilibid – by a still unidentified assailant. – Rappler.com