Bantag rants, brings up Remulla son’s drug case
Outraged over the murder charges filed against him early this week, suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag on Friday tried to turn the tables on Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, calling his superior a liar, a drug user, a protector of drug lords and a “disgrace to the Department of Justice (DOJ).”
“Step down, Mr. Secretary, because you no longer have any credibility,” he said in an interview with SMNI News.
It was the first time that Bantag has spoken about the criminal complaints filed on Monday by the police and the National Bureau of Investigation alleging that he was the brains behind the killings of radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and Cristito “Jun Villamor” Palaña, an inmate at New Bilibid Prison.
By pinning him as the mastermind of the murders, Bantag said Remulla was using his position to gain more prominence to advance his political plans to run for a higher post in the 2025 midterm elections and to get public attention away from his son’s arrest on drug charges.
“He has no moral ascendancy. The people know what you are doing. You are conditioning the minds of the people to point to me, me, me!” an indignant Bantag said, also pointing to himself three times.
“Are those the actions of a justice secretary?” he asked.
Bantag was clearly frustrated and furious, and several times exploded with expletives against Remulla and other officials for naming him, despite his earlier denials, as the mastermind of the Oct. 3 attack on Mabasa and the death of Palaña.
The inmate was the alleged middleman in the plot to kill the broadcaster-vlogger. He died mysteriously on Oct. 18, a day after confessed gunman Joel Escorial surrendered.
During what turned out to be a virtual monologue, Bantag consulted some notes which he said he prepared to defend himself.
Clean-shaven, he changed his appearance slightly, no longer rocking his beard for the interview, which he said was akin to a “dying declaration.”
“I may get killed by the criminal syndicates,” Bantag said.
Remulla flew to Geneva, Switzerland, for a meeting with the United Nations Human Rights Council without commenting on Bantag’s statements.
But the DOJ said in a statement that the Philippine National Police and the NBI used the “method of deduction” in concluding that Bantag was the mastermind of the killing of Mabasa and Palaña.
“The DOJ understands the predicament of (Director General) Bantag. His words and actions, no matter how personal and inappropriate, come from a misguided sense of betrayal,” it said.
Regarding Remulla’s son, Bantag mocked the justice secretary, saying: “Expose him. Call a press conference on him, too.”
Remulla’s 38-year-old son Juanito Jose Diaz Remulla III was arrested by agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Las Piñas City on Oct. 11, seizing P1.3 million worth of “kush,” or high-grade marijuana, that was shipped from the United States.
Remulla vowed not to influence or interfere in his son’s case.His son has pleaded not guilty to illegal drug possession charges in the Las Piñas Regional Trial Court. The Pasay City prosecutor’s office has not yet resolved cases of illegal drug importation and violation of customs law against him.
Bantag alleged that Remulla’s son was just a “middleman” and that the kush was really for the justice secretary, the “mastermind” of the importation of the drug.
He claimed that people in his home region of the Cordillera knew what Remulla used to do there in the past.
“When there were still a lot of marijuana here … and when Secretary Boying left home, what he did was smoke marijuana here in our place in the Cordillera. Didn’t you use marijuana, Secretary Boying Remulla?” said Bantag, a native of Baguio City.
He insisted that he was innocent and had no reason to kill Mabasa. He questioned the way that Remulla allegedly stirred the investigation to implicate him.
Bantag said that a convicted drug lord may be behind the murder of the radio commentator and vlogger.
According to him, Escorial and Palaña were “connected” with German Agojo, a convicted drug dealer who has been serving a life sentence since 2002.
Agojo was also allegedly tagged in the 2004 killing of Batangas Regional Trial Court Judge Voltaire Rosales, who convicted him of selling “shabu” (crystal meth) in 1999, Bantag said.
‘Attention, Lapid family’
“Attention, Lapid family: the person who killed Percy Lapid was working for Agojo, whom Secretary Boying Remulla had ordered to be taken away by the NBI,” he said.
Bantag did not say what Agojo’s motive was for ordering Mabasa’s killing.
Agojo was not among the respondents in the Mabasa and Palaña murder complaints.
Bantag also called Remulla a “drug lord protector,” saying the justice chief tried to get two convicted drug lords, Engelberto Durano and Nonilo Arile, freed from prison.
Both are under the Witness Protection Program of the DOJ. They testified against former Sen. Leila de Lima in her pending drug cases.
“In the past, whenever I see any of my staff trying to process the release of these (persons deprived of liberty), I beat him up. Now, it’s you who is trying to get them released?” Bantag said, addressing Remulla.
The justice department’s statement did not respond to that part of Bantag’s interview.
Commenting on the “uncharacteristic speed” with which the Mabasa murder was resolved by the authorities, Carlos Conde of the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the case nevertheless was “grisly proof” of problems hounding the country’s justice system.
He said that since 1986, over 200 journalists, mostly based in provinces, have been killed and only a “few cases” have resulted in arrests, “let alone been successfully prosecuted.”
“The Philippines has had the dubious distinction of being one of the top countries over the years in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ ‘Impunity Index,’” Conde said in a statement on Friday.
For three consecutive years, the Philippines was the seventh worst country for convicting killers of journalists, according to the global media watchdog’s report this year.
Conde said the prosecution of suspects in Mabasa’s killing could be an opportunity for the administration of President Marcos to prove that it takes attacks against journalists “more seriously.” “Without accountability for such attacks, there can’t be genuine media freedom in the Philippines,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN AND DEMPSEY REYES INQ
Bantag dares Remulla to resign: ‘You’ve lost your credibility’
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