‘2 cases’ seen in Percy slay; Bilibid’s ‘Tanda’ crops up
The government will name the accused in the murder of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa when it files charges against them on Monday.
In an interview with reporters, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police “are talking between themselves about the cases they’re filing, because they’re filing more cases on Monday.”
“We’re trying to close everything as early as we can, but there are two to three people that we still want to talk to just to be thorough about it,” he said.
The justice chief noted the “two cases” arising from the Oct. 3 killing of Mabasa—the journalist’s slay itself—and “the Villamor case.”
He was referring to the death, under controversial circumstances, of New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmate Cristito “Jun Villamor” Palaña, an alleged middleman who acted on behalf of the mastermind in Mabasa’s murder.
“[But] it’s more … the Percy Lapid case that we’re sorting out now,” Remulla said.
“Let the NBI and the PNP name the people that they want to charge before the courts. My job is to make sure the process works,” he added.
Last week, Remulla said it was “very possible” that the mastermind behind the assassination of the broadcaster was already identified during the investigation of about 160 persons of interest, including suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag.
But according to Mabasa’s younger brother Roy, at least one more BuCor official, besides Bantag, could be behind the killing.
“We have seen the testimonies of the inmates, and all of them point to certain BuCor officials [behind that crime],” Roy Mabasa, also a journalist, said in an interview with ANC on Friday.
He said inmates from NBP currently held by the NBI specifically mentioned Bantag, whom they called “Tanda (elder).”
Roy said another BuCor official was “directly giving orders to the inmates,” but he did not name that person.
The prisoners themselves also referred to “Tanda” in a recent TV interview, alleging that he and other BuCor officials ordered them to raise at least half a million pesos for the hit job.
The NBI currently has in its custody 13 NBP prisoners tagged as persons of interest. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said the inmates had expressed concern for their safety and had asked to remain on the bureau’s watch.
In a recent interview, one of the inmates said they “were all afraid because among those who were involved were higher-ups.”
Keep an eye
The Inquirer tried to reach Bantag but he had yet to respond, as of this reporting.
In an earlier online interview, he denied any involvement in the murder, saying: “Will I allow myself to be imprisoned? Just kill me if they say that I am their target. We will just end up trying to kill each other.”
Roy said he had asked the NBI to keep an eye on Bantag.
“We are afraid that he might go out of the country. But they told me that he’s still here,” the journalist said.
President Marcos ordered Bantag’s suspension on Oct. 21, following the disclosure of Palaña’s sudden demise.
Palaña died on Oct. 18 just hours after confessed gunman Joel Escorial tagged him, identifying him by name, as the “middleman” when he was presented by the police to the media.
On Oct. 30, forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun said at a media briefing, accompanied by Remulla, that Palaña died of suffocation, which indicated that “the manner [of his death was] homicide.” She suggested further that a plastic bag may have been wrapped around his head.
This contradicted an earlier finding by the BuCor that there were “no signs of foul play” in Palaña’s death.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday continued its preliminary investigation, which lawyer Salvador Quimpo attended on behalf of his client, inmate Christopher Bacoto, the other middleman tagged by Escorial.
The confessed gunman was also at that hearing but made no further testimony.
Quimpo said Bacoto—who is on trial for drug possession and trafficking, frustrated homicide and murder—could not have been involved in Mabasa’s killing.
“He has been in prison in a high security detention facility for the last two years, so how can he [be an accomplice]? How can he recruit?” the lawyer said, adding that Bacoto “doesn’t know” the other suspects.
Bacoto, who is detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s headquarters in Quezon City, was given until Nov. 11 to submit a formal reply to the DOJ.
—WITH A REPORT FROM DEXTER CABALZA
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