MANILA - The Department of Justice on Thursday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to reinvestigate the disappearance of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) employee Edgar Bentain 10 years ago following the revelations of Sen. Panfilo Lacson that Bentain was murdered.
At a press conference, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said Bentain’s case may be now considered as a possible murder case instead of a missing person's case based on Lacson's statement.
“We want an open investigation. With new bits of information from Sen. Lacson – although there is still is no witness – the case of Mr. Bentain transformed from a missing person to a possible crime committed,” she told reporters in a press conference.
The DOJ chief made the instruction following a closed-door meeting with Bentain’s brothers, Edcel and Eddie, who expressed optimism that the information would lead them to their brother’s whereabouts.
The Bentain brothers were referring to Lacson’s privilege speech where he mentioned that Edgar was killed somewhere in Laguna and that a police officer, said to be still active at that time, went to Polk Street in Greenhills and reported compliance with a mission accomplished.
“This is the first time that we heard of such piece of information and coming from a police officer at that time, we believe this is a very important lead to the to the solution to the ten-year unsolved abduction of our brother,” the Bentains said in a letter to Devanadera.
Dante Jimenez, chairman of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, earlier said the DOJ should invite Lacson for further questioning after the latter revealed that Bentain had been murdered.
Bentain was the video operator of Pagcor who allegedly came out with footage of then candidate Vice President Estrada playing baccarat in a casino. The footage was used by then presidential candidate Manoling Morato against Estrada during his campaign for the 1998 presidential elections.
Bentain disappeared after Estrada was elected president in 1998.
In his speech Tuesday, Lacson said Bentain was reportedly abducted by unidentified men at the parking lot of the Grand Boulevard Hotel in Manila and killed “somewhere in Laguna.”
“I did not identify the criminal simply because I did not have any participation or direct personal knowledge of these criminal activities while they were taking place years ago. My investigation is ongoing even as I speak today,” said Lacson.
In a separate interview, Lacson said he has been approached by someone claiming to be an emissary of a former police officer who was involved in Bentain's abduction.
Speaking to ANC's The Big Picture, Lacson said the police officer directly participated in the kidnapping but not in Bentain's murder. He also said he has asked the police officer to turn state witness.
Bentain's relatives earlier expressed frustration with Lacson's revelations, saying that the senator seemed to be holding back information about the case.
Edcel Bentain, the victim's brother, said the only new information they got from Lacson's speech was that Edgar was brought to Laguna to be killed. He added that his family had been looking for his brother in Cavite and Pampanga for the past 10 years.
The Bentain family has accused agents of the now defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) as those responsible for Edgar’s abduction.
“We have been in the dark for almost 10 years now, now we are starting to see some light. Now, we are appealing to Senator Lacson to give us more information,” the Bentains said.
Devanadera said the NBI’s previous investigation was focused on looking for the whereabouts of Edgar since he was still then considered as a missing person.
“Now we have an open investigation. The focus will really depend on information gathered. So we are calling on persons out there who have information on this case to help the NBI in the investigation,” she said.