Bureau of Corrections

Ex-BuCor official, suspect in Percy Lapid killing, dies

Jairo Bolledo

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Ex-BuCor official, suspect in Percy Lapid killing, dies

SUSPECT. Bureau of Corrections superintendent Ricardo Zulueta poses for a photo inside his legal counsel's office in Baguio City on December 13.

Lauro Gacayan

(1st UPDATE) Former BuCor superintendent Ricardo Zulueta, along with his former boss Gerald Bantag, was among the suspects behind Lapid's assassination in 2022

MANILA, Philippines – A former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) official tagged in the assassination of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa had died, local police confirmed.

Former BuCor superintendent Ricardo Zulueta, 42, died due to heart failure at around 11 pm on Friday, March 15, according to a report by the Bataan provincial police. Zulueta died at the Bataan Peninsula Medical Center in Dinalupihan town, where he was brought by his brother.

His body was later brought to Barangay Mabiga in Hermosa town, the police added.

Journalist Roy Mabasa, Lapid’s brother, urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) to determine the facts surrounding the suspect’s death.

“As much as possible, we would like the PNP to ascertain the real cause of his death since he was originally tagged as one of the masterminds in the killing of Percy Lapid. Getting an independent autopsy report would assuage the public that we are indeed after the truth,” Mabasa said.

Zulueta, who was once part of the BuCor’s directorate for security and operations, was implicated in the killing of Lapid in late 2022, along with his former boss, former BuCor chief Gerald Bantag, and a couple of persons deprived of liberty (PDL). Lapid was killed in Las Piñas City in October 2022 – the second journalist to be killed under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

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The broadcaster’s killing renewed scrutiny of the Philippine jail system, particularly on how and why PDLs are being implicated in crimes.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, in a statement on Saturday, March 16, said he had directed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe the authenticity of Zulueta’s death. 

“We are still looking into the veracity of these reports and will update the public as soon as we receive word from the NBI,” Remulla said, adding that his department had yet to receive a report from the NBI regarding the recent development in the Lapid case.

Why this matters

Zulueta was an important figure in the Lapid case because he was the second highest official implicated in the killing after Bantag. Although some PDLs pleaded guilty to lower offenses in the Lapid killing, the victim’s family has yet to attain full justice because Bantag and Zulueta were never detained over their alleged involvement in the case.  

Along with Bantag, the late BuCor official was tagged as principals in the killings of Lapid and PDL Jun Villamor. Villamor, the alleged middleman who contacted people to kill Lapid, was slain inside the country’s national penitentiary, the New Bilibid Prison. 

When authorities filed murder complaints against the suspects, the DOJ said Zulueta was, in fact, the one who gave the killing order. Later, Muntinlupa and Las Piñas regional trial courts issued arrest warrants against the suspects. 

By the end of 2022, Zulueta’s lawyer, Lauro Gacayan, posted a photo of his client and told Rappler that Zulueta was not in hiding, adding that he was ready to answer the charges against him. Days later, in January 2023, Zulueta was still a no-show in the preliminary investigation of their cases. 

Zulueta and Bantag remained at large in the last years, so the DOJ released a wanted poster against them in 2023 and offered a P3-million reward for their capture.

Aside from the Lapid and Villamor cases, Zulueta was also indicted by prosecutors, along with Bantag, for the alleged torture of some PDLs inside Bilibid.

The Lapid family’s and the DOJ’s reservations about Zulueta’s death were not surprising. There were instances in the past when suspects in high-profile cases had also died. 

For instance, the NBI revealed in 2022 that murder, and not COVID-19, was the reason behind the mysterious deaths of some Bilibid PDLs linked to former senator Leila de Lima’s case. Drug convict Jaybee Sebastian, a witness in De Lima’s case, also died while her case was still on trial. 

Sebastian and other high-profile PDL’s deaths triggered a Senate inquiry to probe the “speculations as to whether…these NBP inmates actually died due to [the] COVID-19 disease,” or if the alleged deaths were a ruse to let the prisoners escape. – Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Another one of those “heart attack” deaths? He was “originally tagged as one of the masterminds.” Perhaps the chief mastermind has finally decided to get rid of him. The “Percy Lapid” case will always be a stain in our Justice System unless completely and justifiably resolved.

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.