DOJ: NPS best venue to settle Lapid murder case

Neil Jayson Servallos - The Philippine Star
DOJ: NPS best venue to settle Lapid murder case
Suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag attends the preliminary investigation for the murder case of broadcaster Percy Lapid at the Department of Justice on December 5, 2022.
STAR / KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — The National Prosecution Service (NPS) is the best venue to settle the murder charges filed against suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director general Gerald Bantag, according to the Department of Justice.

DOJ spokesman Mico Clavano said yesterday that since the charges are murder and not offenses in relation to his office in the BuCor, the NPS is the most appropriate venue to handle the case – not the Office of the Ombudsman, as the embattled prisons chief had suggested.

Clavano, interviewed by CNN Philippines, explained that Bantag’s view refers to “those that fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan or cases that have a lot to do with corruption, graft, direct bribery, indirect bribery, malversation, those violations of the code of ethics of government employees and similar offenses.”

“If the investigation on these other cases do merit the filing (of charges), it would be filed in the ombudsman and that’s where I guess the appropriate venue would be for those cases,” he added.

The preliminary investigation of the DOJ into the murder of radio commentator Percy Lapid (real name: Percival Mabasa) and the alleged middleman in his kill contract Cristito “Jun” Villamor Palaña has been suspended after Bantag filed a motion to inhibit the panel of prosecutors from the case.

The motion, Bantag’s lawyer Rocky Balisong explained, is intended to take away the DOJ’s authority to conduct a preliminary investigation since the NPS is under its jurisdiction.

Balisong said the public trading of barbs between his client and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla already poses risks of supposed impartiality on the part of the DOJ’s probe.

“Aside from that we also raised an issue on jurisdiction, so we go back first to the issue of impartiality. Not necessarily the members of the prosecution of the investigating panel, but because the investigating panel is under the control or supervision of the department secretary,” he said.

In response, Clavano said the supposed animosity between Bantag and Remulla is “purely speculative” and gave assurance that there is no need for the justice secretary to step in and handle the case himself.

“They seemed to have nitpicked a certain provision (of a DOJ circular) that gives the Secretary the prerogative, in the interest of justice, to take on cases himself,” the DOJ spokesman said.

“But this prerogative will only be exercised in times when it is absolutely needed. In this case where you have a case filed with the panel of prosecutors and there seems to be no irregularity at all, then the case should be pursued in that venue,” he said.

“They (NPS) have their own discretion when it comes to cases brought before them and the Secretary is sure not to meddle in that discretion,” he added.

However, should the DOJ find probable cause in its probe into the bizarre and controversial activities that stretch to the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, including a deep excavation that Bantag claims was intended for a scuba diving pool, then cases of this matter would be handled by the Office of the Ombudsman.



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