DOJ wraps up preliminary probe into Percy Lapid murder raps vs Bantag

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
DOJ wraps up preliminary probe into Percy Lapid murder raps vs Bantag
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 — Four months since the brazen killing of radio broadcaster Percy Lapid, state prosecutors wrapped up their preliminary investigation into the murder complaints filed against suspended Corrections chief Gerald Bantag — tagged as brains behind the slay — as he filed his counter-affidavit where he denied allegations against him.

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Charlie Guhit told reporters on Wednesday that the case is now submitted for resolution.

“Respondent Bantag submitted his counter-affidavit ex abundanti ad cautelam (out of an abundance of caution) while other respondents [Persons Deprived of Liberty] submitted the cases for resolution without their respective counter-affidavits,” he said in a statement. Simply put, Bantag submitted his counter-affidavit with “caution.”

“According to their counsels, they are adopting their sinumpaang salaysay as their counter-affidavits. Respondent Bacoto already submitted his counter-affidavit in the previous hearing,” he added.

The case stemmed from the killing of Lapid — Percival Mabasa in real life and known for his hard-hitting commentaries on government officials — on October 3 in the capital region. After a man claiming to be his killer surfaced, the supposed middleman Jun Villamor, an inmate of the New Bilibid Prison, also died.

Bantag, chief of the Bureau of Corrections who handles Bilibid, was tagged as the mastermind of the killings. Senior Supt. Ricardo Zulueta, also a corrections official, was also named as his second hand.

A lawyer appeared before the panel and said she is collaborating counsel for Zulueta, but the prosecution pointed out that lawyer Lauro Gacayan, Zulueta’s legal counsel, did not formally enter his appearance in the proceedings.

Guhit said it will be up to them to act or proceed with their case. “Right now the preliminary investigation is submitted for resolution,” the prosecutor added.

Bantag’s defense

In Bantag’s submission to the prosecution panel, he asserted: “I vehemently deny all the allegations against me.”

“There is no probable cause upon which to render a resolution on reasonable belief that will bind me over for trial. Even if probable cause were downgraded to the lowest form of proof, the broken chain of evidence would still mitigate against a finding adverse to me,” he added.

Even as he filed his counter-affidavit, Bantag insisted that the Department of Justice has no jurisdiction to conduct the preliminary investigation since it should be, as he said, with the Office of the Ombudsman — a point he earlier raised in the proceedings but that was dismissed by the prosecution panel.

Bantag pointed out supposed inconsistencies such as that confessed gunman Joel Escorial was engaged for the kill order as early as Sept. 5, 2022, but Zulueta, supposedly Bantag’s second in command, summoned the tagged inmates by second week of September.

He added that the gunman’s testimony was just hearsay and an afterthought, with no probative value.

“I was set up. The flow of events does not add up,” Bantag said, adding that the supposed kill order to Escorial was given two days after Lapid “attacked” him in his radio program.

He again turned the tables on Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, whom he accused of the same crime before the Office of the Ombudsman. The BuCor chief pointed out that Remulla too was a subject of the “Lapid Fire” show of the slain radio journalist.

“I had no motive to mastermind the killing of Percy Lapid; otherwise, SOJ Remulla who was attacked would have had more reason to eliminate his nemesis. After all, between our respective careers, it was his political career that needed more safeguarding than mine,” Bantag added.

Meanwhile, Bantag said accusations on his participation oin the killing of Villamor, the alleged middleman in the murder of Lapid, are “bereft of details.”

“[N]one of the witnesses against me has testified that I personally knew Cristito Palana Villamor who was supposedly killed by the gang commanders; hence, if Zulueta ordered the murder then it must have been a ‘to whom it may concern’ order for which I cannot be held accountable,” he added.

Aside from the two murder raps, Bantag is also facing torture, serious physical injuries, plunder and graft raps.






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