Sister of Percy Lapid slay ‘middleman’ gets gov’t protection
MANILA, Philippines — The sister of one “middleman” in the plot to kill radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa has been placed under government protection following the death of her brother who was an inmate at New Bilibid Prison (NBP), a Department of Justice (DOJ) official said on Tuesday.
The inmate, who has been identified as Cristito Villamor Palaña by his father, died at NBP on Oct. 18 under mysterious circumstances a day after confessed gunman Joel Escorial surrendered to the police.
Escorial described Palaña as the middleman in the assassination plot who had called him from “inside Bilibid” to contract the Oct. 3 attack on Mabasa for P550,000.
Assistant Justice Secretary Mico Clavano said Palaña’s sister met with Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Monday afternoon and gave him information “relevant to the case” and cited threats to her life. He did not give her name and declined to elaborate on the information she had given.
Clavano said that the woman initially sought the help of Sen. Raffy Tulfo, who took her to his brother, Social Welfare Secretary Erwin Tulfo, to give her protection under the justice department.
“When we saw that there was risk to her life, we immediately placed her under the witness protection program and sent her to a temporary shelter,” Clavano told reporters on Tuesday.
“There were names [that she] mentioned, but all these are allegations as of now. So, we have to verify, we have to vet,” he added.
‘If something happens…’
In an interview with “TV Patrol” aired on Monday night, Palaña’s sister said her brother indicated that he might die after Escorial surrendered to authorities on Oct. 17 and pointed to him as one of the gunman’s accomplices.
Palaña sent his last text message to her at 11:59 a.m. — barely two hours before he was supposedly found unconscious in his cell and declared dead at the NBP hospital.
Quoting her brother, she said: “‘Te, kung may mangyari sa ‘kin kapag namatay ako, ingatan po daw itong sikreto. ‘Pag namatay ako ilabas mo ito pero hangga’t buhay ako itago mo ito … Kapag nawala ako, iparating kina Joel na ang nag-utos tatlo na commander dito—Sputnik, Happy Go Lucky at BCJ. Galing sa opisina ang nag-utos sa kanila.”
[Translation: “Sister, if something happens to me and I die, please take care of this secret. If I die, put this out, but keep it while I’m still alive … Once I’m gone, inform Joel and the others that the order came from the three commanders here, (Sigue-Sigue) Sputnik, Happy Go Lucky and BCJ (Batang City Jail). The order to them came from the office.”]
She clarified when asked that her brother referred to the “office in Bilibid.”
She said her brother and Escorial knew each other as they grew up together in the same village in Javier, Leyte province, and Christopher Bacoto, the alleged “second” middleman, was their friend from a neighboring village.
Escorial told investigators that aside from Palaña and Bacoto, he had three other accomplices—brothers Edmon and Israel Dimaculangan, the backup gunmen; and a certain Orly, or Orlando, who drove his getaway motorcycle.
Persons of interest
Police said suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag, who had been criticized by Mabasa in his “Lapid Fire” program, was one of about 160 “persons of interest” in his killing.
Journalist Roy Mabasa, a brother of the slain broadcaster-vlogger, said his family was planning to file cases against Bantag “because of the circumstances leading to the death of the first middleman” while in prison.
“We will question the administrative aspect of it,” he said in a phone interview with the Inquirer.
The police and the Mabasa family believe that Palaña could have identified the mastermind of the killing.
There has been some confusion about the true name of Palaña, who started serving a life term in 2019 at NBP for murder, frustrated murder, and violation of the election gun ban in 2013.
In his extrajudicial confession, Escorial identified the middleman as a certain Crisanto Palana Villamor.
BuCor and the court records showed that his name was Jun Globa Villamor. He was also listed as Jun Garcia Villamor in the carpeta system, the database of persons deprived of liberty.
However, Palaña’s father on Sunday provided the Philippine National Police with a birth certificate which named him Cristito Villamor Palaña.
Closer to mastermind
Despite the death of one of six men who were allegedly involved in the killing of Mabasa, PNP chief Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said the investigation was getting closer to the identity of the mastermind.
He said Jose Villamor, a cousin of Palaña and also an NBP inmate, gave information to investigators that could help the case.
“There are revelations that were given to us [by Villamor]. But at this time, we are not at liberty to start revealing what those are because we really need to come up with the definite investigative [pieces of evidence] before we reveal it as it might jeopardize the ongoing investigation,” Azurin said in an interview with ANC on Tuesday.
He said: “There is information that is leading to whoever is the suspected mastermind.”
Azurin did not disclose the supposed role of Villamor, who has been taken in protective custody by the police.
Remulla earlier said Villamor “may be a witness, who may know about the persons involved from inside the Bilibid.”
Bacoto, who is under the protection of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), is now also cooperating with investigators.
“There’s cooperation from those under our custody. But, of course, they would only gradually give information,” Azurin said. “Because definitely, there might be something holding them back to reveal other information like for example, the security of their family, their immediate family and loved ones.”
Roy told the Inquirer that he had requested Remulla for a second autopsy on the remains of Palaña to be conducted by leading forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun, who had questioned why the body was embalmed prior.
The National Bureau of Investigation conducted its own autopsy on Palaña on Oct. 20, but did not declare the cause of death.
Roy said two of Palaña’s sisters contacted him on his Twitter account three to four days prior to the older sister’s “TV Patrol” interview, telling him about the alleged order to kill his brother coming from the three prison gangs.
He said keeping in touch with the siblings now has “no value” and that they “might as well tell everything” to the authorities.
‘Middleman’ revealed to sister those behind Percy Lapid murder – report
Percy Lapid case: PNP chief bares receiving info that may lead to mastermind
BuCor’s Bantag among 160 persons of interest in Percy Lapid slay
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