Raps filed vs suspended BuCor chief Gerald Bantag over killing of Percy Lapid

Franco Luna - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Update 1:47 p.m.) — The National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine National Police have filed complaints naming Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag, currently serving preventive suspension, among the respondents behind the murder of radioman Percy Lapid. 

This was confirmed by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla at a press conference Monday morning. 

"Bantag had a clear motive to effect the murders. For Percy Lapid, it was the continued expose by the latter of the issues against the latter on his show Lapid Fire," NBI special action unit investigator Eugene Javier said. 

"The investigation has brought to light the institutionalization of a criminal organization within the government. This will be the cause of many reforms in government," he also vowed. 

The NBI said in its timeline of events that the order to kill Lapid was coursed through six layers before it reached confessed gunman Joel Escorial. 

Those who passed the order on include gangs at the New Bilibid Prison, BuCor deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta, and eventually, Bantag himself. 

When the Department of the Interior and Local Government held a press conference to introduce Escorial after the latter turned himself in, Zulueta was "concerned that Escorial might know him" and sought to tie up loose ends. 

Zulueta warned Alvin Labra, a commander at the Batang City Jail or BCJ gang "that Bantag's name should not come out." 

When Escorial confessed that the order came from Jun Villamor, a member of the Sputnik gang tasked to look for a hitman on the outside, Zulueta had the former killed. 

As one of his last acts before his murder, Villamor reached out to his sister and said he may be killed soon. He then revealed the names of those involved in the conspiracy to kill the radio journalist. 

"The beer, the drugs, the telephones, the weapons inside Bilibid are a very strong indication of the presence of a criminal organization with a centralized purchasing system," Remulla also said Monday.

"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 who then orchestrated and executed the killing ofPercy Lapid through his Gang members and his Gang members’ contacts on the outside ultimately ending with gunman Joel Escorial and his group," the DOJ said in a statement. 

But when asked by reporters on Monday about the direct links to Bantag, Remulla only said that the conclusion came about after consideration of "the totality of all the statements" gathered from the gang commanders who were investigated. 

The NBI said that Bantag, who does not yet have a warrant as of press time, is now under "monitoring."

"This is an exceptional case. None of these people would have talked if General Bantag remained as the head of the BuCor. The fear of General Bantag is just tremendous and unbelievable from the eyes of these PDLs," Remulla said. 

BuCor Superintendent Ricardo Zulueta, among those facing raps, headed the bureau's Directorate for Security and Operations. Along with Bantag, he was acquitted of homicide in 2020, a case that stemmed from the deaths of 10 detainees in an explosion at the Parañaque Cit Jail in 2016.

Zulueta is still at large and was last seen "four to five days ago," Remulla said. He added that a lookout order will soon be issued, which would allow immigration officers to monitor attempts to leave the country.

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos also called on the superintendent to surrender to authorities. 

with reports from Kristine Joy Patag 


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