BuCor chief suspended as questions linger on 'middleman' in Lapid slay

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 12:30 p.m.) — Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag is suspended for 90 days to give way for a “fair, impartial investigation” on the death of a detainee at the New Bilibid Prison who is said to be one of two “middlemen” in the fatal ambush of radio commentator Percy Lapid.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla announced this at a press conference on Friday, saying that he was acting on orders from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to show that there are “no sacred cows in this administration.”

Remulla initially said that Bantag is suspended indefinitely, but the formal notice of his suspension said that he is suspended for 90 days effective immediately.

Department of Justice spokesperson Mico Clavano said the period of suspension may be extended either with the help of the Office of the President or the Office of the Executive Secretary or with the consent of Bantag.

Stepping in as officer-in-charge at the BuCor is former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Gregorio Catapang Jr., who Remulla said was Marcos' personal pick.

‘No foul play’

The justice chief said Thursday that the supposed middleman who arranged the killing of Lapid, whose real name is Percival Mabasa, from inside Bilibid died October 18.

This was the same day that Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos and the Philippine National Police presented to the press Joel Escorial, initially identified as Estorial — the alleged gunman in Lapid's slay. Escorial surrendered to authorities a day earlier, Oct. 17.

BuCor spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag said Friday in a statement that the detainee in Bilibid who authorities said is one of two middlemen involved in Lapid’s murder is 42-year-old Jun Villamor.

Chaclag said that Villamor was brought October 18 to the New Bilibid Prison hospital as he lost consciousness, but was declared dead at 2 p.m. the same day as attempts to revive him failed.

“Initial findings showed no signs of physical external injuries which probably indicates a natural cause of death or no signs of foul play,” Chaclag said. “However, we are still awaiting the official and final autopsy result which will include a toxicology test that will be further conducted today to complete the autopsy.”

Remulla said he sent out National Bureau of Investigation agents on Thursday to perform an autopsy at Eastern Funeral Homes on Villamor’s body. He said a toxicology report is also being prepared.


Authorities had a full day to secure Villamor, who Remulla said is known in different records as Crisanto Villamor, Jun Globa Villamor and Jun Garcia Villamor, but were unable to do so.

Asked why security was not provided to Villamor after Escorial surrendered, Remulla said he has “no answer” as he “found out everything yesterday.”

Remulla admitted that there may have been some lapses in coordination among investigating authorities and the Department of Justice.

“There was probably a shortcoming there. Hindi kami nakapag-coordinate. Kasi nga hindi naman kami ang nagi-investigate, we’re not the ones investigating. And probably the excitement of things, it was forgotten, or maybe na-forego lang nila iyong coordination na kinakailangan sa bagay na ito,” Remulla said.

(There was probably a shortcoming there. We weren’t able to coordinate because we’re not the ones investigating. And probably, in the excitement of things, the needed coordination in this matter was forgotten or forgone.)

Second middleman

In a statement on Thursday, the DOJ said that Escorial voluntarily re-affirmed his affidavit during inquest proceedings where he admitted to killing Lapid by shooting him three times using a .45-caliber pistol while being accompanied by brothers Israel Adao Dimaculangan, Edmon Adao Dimaculangan and another man known only as Orly or Orlando.

The DOJ said the four men planned and executed Lapid’s ambush-slay on the inducement or orders of a certain Crisanto Palana Villamor who promised a P550,000 payment for the crime.

Another person, named by the DOJ as Christopher Bacoto who is also known as Jerry Sandoval, is said to have talked to the Dimaculangan brothers and Orly or Orlando to join Escorial in the killing.

Remulla confirmed Friday that Bacoto was the second middleman police referred to the previous day as reports surfaced that Villamor died in Bilibid.

Southern Police District chief PBGen. Kirby Kraft assured Friday over DZBB that the second middleman, whom he said has a case related to illegal drugs, has been secured by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag

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