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Opinion

EDITORIAL - Missing in action

The Philippine Star

If Gerald Bantag is wondering why people believe accusations that he is behind the murder of Percival Mabasa, the broadcaster known as Percy Lapid, it is because key players in the killing have ended up either dead or missing.

Among them is the man who can directly link Bantag to the alleged contract to kill Lapid: Ricardo Zulueta, superintendent for security and operations in the Bureau of Corrections, who has been missing for over a month now and is feared by some quarters to be dead. Suspects and witnesses grilled by investigators have pointed to Zulueta as the one who got in touch with New Bilibid Prison gang leaders, purportedly on orders of Bantag, to find hired guns who could murder Lapid.

This was supposedly after Lapid went to Bantag’s home in Laguna in September and took video footage of the house and the numerous motor vehicles parked there. Lapid’s visit came on the heels of his commentaries in his radio show about corruption and ill-gotten wealth accumulated by a so-called “Cinderella Man” in the BuCor.

Zulueta was Bantag’s co-defendant in a multiple homicide case filed against them and jail officer Victor Erick Pascua in 2016, when they were with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. Following a riot on Aug. 13, 2016 at the Parañaque City Jail where Bantag was the warden, 10 inmates died in a grenade explosion in his office. Bantag, Zulueta and Pascua were acquitted in January 2020 by Parañaque Regional Trial Court Judge Betlee-Ian Barraquias, ostensibly for insufficiency of evidence.

Since self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial surrendered and tagged Bantag and several NBP inmates in Lapid’s Oct. 3 murder in Las Piñas, Zulueta has not reported for work. Probers have also failed to find him at his home. Having served as Bantag’s right-hand man since their days with the BJMP, wouldn’t the suspended BuCor chief be aware of Zulueta’s whereabouts?

The worst fear is that Zulueta has been permanently silenced, like Lapid, and hidden where the perpetrator hopes the remains will not be found. If this is not the case, however, flight is generally seen as an indication of guilt. Every day that passes with Zulueta missing reinforces perceptions that the accusations not only against him but also Bantag are true. If Zulueta is innocent, the sooner he surfaces, the better his chances of disproving the charges against him.

GERALD BANTAG

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