PNP chief suspects foul play in death of Percy Lapid slay ‘broker’
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine National Police chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said he suspected foul play might have been involved in the death of Jun Villamor, one of the alleged middlemen in the killing of radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa.
In a media briefing on Monday, the PNP chief cast doubts on the sudden demise of Villamor, who was a prisoner at New Bilibid Prison (NBP), saying “it’s an unfortunate incident but the timing is questionable.”
The initial autopsy report did not specify the cause of his death, raising more suspicions among experts and observers, while Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag insisted he died of “cardiac arrest.”
Villamor died on Oct. 18, a day after the surrender of Joel Escorial, the confessed gunman in the killing of Mabasa who pointed to a certain Crisanto Villamor as the person who gave him the order to kill the radio commentator for P550,000.
BuCor said it did not have Crisanto Villamor on its list of inmates, but later noted that they were certain that Escorial was referring to Jun Villamor.
In his extrajudicial confession, Escorial also tagged Christopher Bacoto, an inmate at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), as well as brothers Edmund and Israel Dimaculangan, and a certain Orly, as his accomplices.
“It seemed somewhat incidental, that in the course of the ongoing investigation, suddenly this happened to the one we’ve been looking for, right?” Azurin said.
“We were almost there. We have identified the triggerman and we have recovered pieces of evidence and this happened. We could have talked to Villamor,” he added, lamenting that they had expected BuCor to have immediately “segregated” inmates bearing the Villamor surname, so that Escorial could personally identify the middleman.
The PNP chief also seemed in disbelief at initial reports that Villamor might have died in his sleep (“bangungot”).
“How can you sleep in Bilibid at noontime? When I was a police captain, I had been entering the NBP and I’ve seen the situation there. It’s impossible to fall asleep because it’s too hot and congested there. I wonder how he was able to fall asleep,” he said.
Chaclag claimed in an interview with CNN Philippines that they did not initially know that the alleged middleman was an NBP inmate and that they learned the PNP was looking for Villamor only a day after his death.
Chaclag said Villamor might have gotten nervous after seeing the news implicating him in Mabasa’s death while watching TV with other inmates.
He said Villamor had heart ailments and suffered chest pain in the past but refused to undergo a medical checkup.
Case still unsolved
Azurin likewise pointed out that the Mabasa slay case was not yet solved, contrary to Southern Police District director Brig. Gen. Kirby John Kraft’s earlier statement.
“Although we have filed a case against Escorial and his accomplices, we have yet to determine who is the mastermind and how it was planned in Bilibid,” he said.
Journalist Roy Mabasa said he, too, did not think it was “correct to assume the case (of his brother) has been solved” after police arrested Escorial.
“Until we get to the bottom of it, the mastermind, there is no such thing as a closed case,” added the family’s spokesperson, lawyer Bertani Causing.
According to Mabasa, he, his nieces, and nephews have also been receiving death threats from a man claiming to be an inmate from NBP since the suspected gunman has been revealed by the PNP.
At first, he said the man contacted them via Facebook Messenger to say that he had an audio recording detailing how the suspects and the alleged middlemen inside NBP planned out Mabasa’s ambush on Oct. 4.
“Of course, we did not believe him outright but as the family of the victim, we held onto every information we received, so initially I entertained him,” Mabasa said. “Then after a few days, he said he would only provide the audio in exchange for a certain amount.”
Mabasa noted that the man told them through a mix of phone calls, video calls, and messages via Messenger that he knew where they all lived, then the man started calling Mabasa’s children “and I don’t know how they got their numbers.”
“He kept telling us, ‘Huwag kayong papakasigurado, baka isunod kayo (Don’t be too complacent, you might be next),’” Mabasa said.
Meanwhile, Causing said that the Mabasa family intended to file an administrative case against BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag for allowing mobile phones inside NBP which led to the murder of Mabasa.
Escorial had said in a press conference on Oct. 18 that the “middlemen” contacted him from the facility to order the shooting of Mabasa, although personnel and inmates in prison facilities are prohibited from using cell phones.
As for the criminal charge, the family may file a case over the director’s alleged reckless imprudence resulting in murder, according to Causing.
Bantag is under a 90-day preventive suspension to guarantee the impartial investigation of the death of Villamor, as ordered by President Marcos, said Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.
The PNP is also looking into at least 160 personalities, including Bantag, who were frequently targeted by Mabasa in more than 600 posts that it has reviewed since 2021, as persons of interest.
“There are more or less 160 different personalities: politicians, military, and police officers. We’re currently looking at their probable link to the death of Percy,” Azurin said.
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