What we know so far: Bantag and those linked to Percy Lapid, middleman slays
MANILA, Philippines – Revelations continue to unfold surrounding the death of tough-talking radio broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa, whose brazen assassination last October launched a fast-paced investigation that, more often than not, kept the public in the loop on the latest developments in the case.
The progress in the investigation, which was likened to a telenovela by Mabasa’s brother Roy, introduces a cast of persons of interest, alleged middlemen and supposed masterminds, in the pursuit to hold accountable those behind Mabasa’s killing.
On Monday, authorities unveiled a more detailed picture of those allegedly involved in the deaths of Mabasa and the alleged middleman in his slay case, Cristito Palaña, who was earlier identified as Jun or Crisanto Villamor.
Among the names that surfaced were those of suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director general Gerald Bantag, and BuCor deputy security officer (DSO) Ricardo Zulueta.
“It was found through the investigation that both director general Gerald Bantag and DSO Ricardo Zulueta were behind the killing of both Percy Lapid and Jun Villamor (Cristito Palaña),” National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) spokesman Eugene Javier said, after confirming that both BuCor officials are facing a murder complaint filed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the NBI.
But how are Bantag and Zulueta linked to the death of Mabasa and Palaña? Here’s what we know so far.
Roles of Bantag, Zulueta in the murder of Mabasa
Bantag, appointed as BuCor chief by then President Rodrigo Duterte, had repeatedly denied allegations on his involvement in Mabasa’s killing, claiming that he had nothing to gain from ordering such crime.
But authorities’ investigation found that Bantag supposedly gave Mabasa’s kill order, while Zulueta is believed to have given the instructions for the hit job to the persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) linked to the case.
READ: Murder raps filed vs Bantag, others linked to Percy Lapid slay
This came from the affidavits of PDLs Denver Mayores, Alvin Labra, Aldrin Galicia, and Alfie Peñaredonda, who have all been charged as principals by indispensable cooperation for Mabasa’s death.
“The sworn statements of the PDLs show a clear and direct line of communication from the director general and DSO Ricardo Zulueta to Denver Mayores, who communicated with Alvin Labra, who then coordinated with Aldrin Galicia,” Javier said.
He further detailed that Galicia had “orchestrated and executed the killing of Percy Lapid (Mabasa) through his gang members and gang members’ contacts on the outside, ultimately ending with gunman Joel Escorial and his group.”
Escorial was presented to the public last October 18 after he confessed as Mabasa’s hitman and named his alleged cohorts – brothers Israel and Edmon Dimaculangan, a certain Orly, and alleged middlemen Palaña and Christopher Bacoto.
On the same day, Palaña died at the New Bilibid Prison hospital in Muntinlupa. His death was only publicly revealed by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla two days later.
Palaña kill order ‘came from high BuCor official’
The sworn statements of the PDLs were likewise cited by Javier in establishing the alleged link of Bantag and Zulueta in Palaña’s death, who is believed to have died through suffocation by a plastic bag.
He said it “show[s] a similar clear and direct line of communication” from Bantag and Zulueta to Mayores, Labra, then Galicia, who “orchestrated and executed the killing of Jun Villamor (Palaña) through his gang members.”
“This time, Jun Villamor (Palaña) was suffocated to death by a plastic bag and held by his own gang members. The unique circumstance shows that the order came from a high official of the BuCor,” Javier said.
He then added: “One usually seeks refuge and protection from his own gang members. The fact that they killed one of their own means and indicates that there were instructions from the top and the gang simply had no choice but to execute.”
What are Bantag’s motives?
Javier said Bantag had clear motives to order the killing of Mabasa and Palaña.
For Mabasa, he said it was the newsman’s “continued exposé” on issues against Bantag.
Javier said “this was evident from the video sent by DSO Zulueta to Denver Mayores, which was later forwarded to both Alvin Labra and Aldrin Galicia.”
Bantag, earlier identified by the PNP as one of the 160 persons of interest in Mabasa’s case, was a frequent target in the hard-hitting commentaries aired by Mabasa on his news program “Lapid Fire.”
One of Mabasa’s last exposés against Bantag was published on September 2, when a BuCor employee had supposedly approached the radioman to complain about the “panggigipit” or pressure coming from the BuCor chief.
“Hindi na natin babanggitin ang kanilang pangalan sapagkat pag-iinitan sila. ‘Di ba, alam niyo naman si Bantag, kapag iyan ay nalagay sa isang pwesto ang daming namamatay,” Mabasa also noted.
(We won’t mention their names because they might be put under fire for this. You know Bantag, once you put him in a position, many people die.)
A few days later, Mabasa shared his “Cinderella Man” story, which aired videos of Bantag’s house in Laguna to expose his alleged wealth.
READ: ‘Cinderella Man’ story possibly pushed Bantag to order Percy Lapid slay – Remulla
Palaña’s death, on the other hand, “was the attempt to cover up the murder of Percy Lapid (Mabasa),” according to Javier.
With the complaints lodged against the accused individuals behind Mabasa and Palaña’ death, Remulla vowed to abide by the due process granted upon them by law, noting that subpoenas will soon be issued on Bantag, Zulueta, and the others tagged in the slay case.
Mabasa’s family said the case won’t end with this development as they remain “optimistic” that authorities may soon pin down other possible “masterminds” behind the radio host’s death.
Prison deaths high under Bantag, some found with ‘criminal intent’
PH still among world’s worst countries in prosecuting killers of journalists
Lapid case principal accused Bantag, BuCor exec urged to surrender now
BuCor security officer linked to Percy Lapid slay ‘in hiding,’ says Remulla
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