Kin say justice still elusive a year after Mabasa slay
A year after the murder of radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa, justice remains elusive for his grieving family as the alleged masterminds remain at large.
The past year has been a test especially for his brother and fellow journalist Roy Mabasa, the only one in the family left to deal with the trial after Percival Mabasa’s family had left the country to escape the trauma of his murder.
“You cannot imagine the burden I am carrying,” Roy told the Inquirer. “The more that [the suspects] are being given the time [to delay the case], the more we’re losing … steam.”
On the anniversary of Percival’s death on Tuesday, his brother called on the government to exert political will to expedite the trial of his killers.
The alleged masterminds, former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag and former BuCor deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta, remain at large after the Philippine National Police in April declared them fugitives and the court hearing the case, the Las Piñas Regional Trial Court Branch 254, issued warrants for their arrest.
Roy said the Department of Justice (DOJ) was no longer in touch with him, after it had led the search for the killers during the first few months of the case. He urged the agency to at least acknowledge again the case, which he said “the whole world is watching.”
But according to the DOJ, it will have three vloggers who interviewed Bantag last month cited for contempt.
On Sept. 14, vloggers Coach Oli, Banat By and Boss Dada TV—collectively known as the “Banateros Brothers”—published a three-part “exclusive” interview with Bantag on their Facebook and YouTube accounts.
“They are disrespecting the court. They know that this person is wanted. There are already court orders for his arrest,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Tuesday.
The DOJ also offers reward money of P2 million and P1 million, respectively, for the arrest of Bantag and Zulueta.
Roy challenged Bantag to “man up and face these charges.”
“He is a grown-up… He knows what is waiting for him,” he said. “What happened to his arrogance, when he said he was ready to face everything?”
Other murder cases
Percival Mabasa was shot twice by one of two men on a motorcycle on Oct. 3 last year, as he arrived home in Las Piñas.
The murder was eventually linked to New Bilibid Prison (NBP), whose inmates were supposedly ordered by Bantag to kill the commentator after he questioned Bantag’s source of wealth.
Bantag and Zulueta were later indicted, together with prison gang leaders Aldrin Galicia (also known as Sputnik), Alfie Peñaredonda (HappyGoLucky) and Alvin Labra (Batang City Jail).
The gang leaders subsequently pleaded guilty as accessories and were sentenced to five to 12 years in prison.
Joel Escorial, the confessed gunman, has filed a motion to plead guilty to the lesser offense of homicide and asked that he be transferred to Samar province for security reasons.
Roy Mabasa said he was “still studying the motion, because I don’t know if this might be part of a scheme—though it might compel him to spill the beans further.”
Bantag and Zulueta were also charged with the killing of Cristito “Jun Villamor” Palaña, an inmate who had allegedly acted as middleman and recruited Escorial as the hit man.
On Aug. 29, the National Bureau of Investigation filed new murder complaints against Bantag, Zulueta and other former BuCor officials and inmates for the killing of Hegel Samson, another NBP inmate who was said to have caught Bantag’s ire for his social media posts on alleged anomalies in the national penitentiary.
‘Monitor the case’
Because Bantag has yet to appear in court, a coalition of press freedom advocates gathered outside the DOJ on Tuesday as they expressed concern that the Mabasa killing could languish in the court archives.
“We call for urgent attention to the court hearings, including making sure that the accused are represented by their lawyers so that court proceedings are not delayed by their absence,” said the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network.