Bantag has also filed libel, admin cases vs Remulla
MANILA — Suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag has turned the tables on Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, accusing him of being the “mastermind” behind the killing of radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and alleged middleman Jun Villamor.
Bantag, who is being investigated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the Lapid-Villamor killings, filed on Wednesday, Jan. 4, a criminal complaint for murder and administrative cases of grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service and conduct unbecoming of a public official against Remulla before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Bantag accused Remulla of ordering the two killings supposedly through inmate German/Herman Agojo.
Agojo is named as a co-respondent in the complaint along with BuCor acting director general Gregorio Catapang, Jr. and New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmates Alfie Peñaredonda, Aldrin Galicia, Mario Alvarez and Alvin Labra.
According to the complaint, Peñaredonda is the commander of HappyGoLucky Gang, Galicia is the commander of the Sputnik Gang, and Labra is the commander of the Batang City Jail (BCJ) Gang in Bilibid and were earlier tagged by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the killing of Lapid.
Alvarez, a member of the Sputnik Gang, along with Labra and Galicia, were also implicated by the NBI and the PNP in the killing of Villamor inside the NBP on Oct. 18, 2022.
Agojo was previously only identified by Joel Escorial, self-confessed gunman in the Lapid killing, in his affidavit as his and Villamor’s former boss in Tanauan, Batangas, who allegedly gave them instructions to kill whoever he wanted dead.
But no complaints were filed against him before the DOJ.
Bantag claimed Agojo played a key role in the Lapid-Villamor killings.
He presented his own diagrams alleging that Remulla supposedly talked to Agojo.
For Lapid’s killing, Agojo allegedly hired Villamor to contact Escorial, who later on confessed to shooting Lapid himself outside his subdivision in Las Piñas on Oct. 3, 2022, according to Bantag's complaint.
For Villamor’s killing, Agojo allegedly talked to the three gangs in Bilibid.
“[I]t is clear that Remulla and German Agojo know each other. Agojo had been applying for parole and Secretary Remulla knows about this. Besides, Secretary Remulla caused the immediate transfer of Agojo to the NBI without his statements being taken despite the fact that he is a person of interest as stated by Secretary Remulla himself,” Bantag said.
He attached to his complaint a supposed copy of Remulla’s Oct. 26, 2022 letter to Catapang ordering the transfer of Agojo from the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP) to the NBI for the purpose of investigation as a person-of-interest in the Lapid-Villamor killings.
Another letter supposedly from Remulla of the same date also ordered the transfer of the four other inmates to the NBI.
Catapang was included in the Ombudsman complaint as a co-conspirator in supposedly allowing the transfer of the inmates and for his supposed “witch-hunting” activities against Bantag, which included allegations of digging a tunnel for treasure-hunting and of selling overpriced beer to inmates.
But unlike the four inmates who gave their statements to the NBI, Bantag said there was no statement from Agojo.
“After the case was filed by the PNP and the NBI at the Department of Justice, there was no statement of German Agojo y Luna that was attached to the record of the case despite the fact that he was a person of interest as per the letter of Secretary Remulla to Gen. Gregorio Catapang, Jr.,” the complaint read.
“The transfer is improper because the PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) including Agojo can be investigated at the NBP and the ISAFP where they are detained. It becomes more suspicious and improper because after the statements of the PDLs were taken, they remained under NBI custody. Unless the purpose of Secretary Remulla is to coach them in order to shield him from his participation in the crime, the PDLs should be returned to the ISAFP and NBP,” it added.
Bantag had alluded to Remulla and Agojo’s alleged involvement in the killings of Lapid in a live interview with SMNI News Channel on Nov. 11 last year.
He claimed Agojo’s whereabouts is now “under question.”
“It is not certain if he is with the NBI confinement facilities or he was released upon the instance of the Secretary of Justice Jesus Crispin Remulla. It is only the Secretary who knows where he is,” he said.
According to Bantag, Remulla has more reasons than him to order Lapid’s killing.
While Lapid allegedly called Bantag “Cinderella man,” Lapid supposedly referred to Remulla as “Bonjing,” a Filipino derogatory word for an immature person, among other “insulting and damaging descriptions.”
“Who then between complainant [Bantag] and SOJ Remulla would have been inflicted the deeper emotional wound?” Bantag asked.
He also claimed that a few days before Lapid’s death, the broadcaster described Remulla as a “person who will destroy the image of President Ferdinand Marcos” and supposedly accused him of defending Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).
“Was SOJ Remulla on the POI (person of interest) list? If he was, would he not have had the motive to pin blame on complainant [Bantag] to draw attention away from that list and prevent his name from surfacing?” Bantag said.
The suspended BuCor chief also claimed that since Galicia, one of the inmates allegedly involved in Villamor’s killing, worked for Agojo, Villamor’s death “must have been done upon the orders of Agojo.
He also questioned why Remulla hired the services of forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun despite an earlier NBI autopsy finding no signs of foul play.
“By engaging Dr. Fortun to conduct another autopsy, Secretary Remulla destroyed the credibility of the NBI Forensic experts who already conducted the autopsy on Jun Villamor. He has put the credibility of the NBI medico legal experts to question to the prejudice of the NBI as an institution,” Bantag said, although he pointed out Fortun’s autopsy results were not included in the records of the case.
Bantag urged the Ombudsman to conduct an in-depth investigation into the killings and order the preventive suspension of Remulla and Catapang.
“Respondents SOJ Jesus Crispin C. Remulla and Acting Director General Gregorio Pio Catapang, Jr. should be immediately placed under preventive suspension in order to prevent them from using their respective positions to exert undue influence or pressure on the possible witnesses and the possible tampering of evidence that may come from their respective offices in the course of the investigation,” he said.
LIBEL, ADMIN RAPS
On Dec. 27, Bantag filed separate libel and administrative complaints against Remulla, also with the Office of the Ombudsman.
He accused Remulla of making a “concocted, invented and far-fetched statement” that he supposedly became furious because Lapid supposedly took photos of his house in Laguna and of making an “irresponsible and malicious statement” urging him and his former deputy, Ricardo Zulueta, to surrender despite the absence of any warrants of arrest.
“By issuing these statements, respondent [Remulla] has no other purpose but to picture the complainant in the eye of the public as a fugitive and guilty because he (according to the respondent) went into hiding. The respondent should be neutral and should display himself as impartial becuase his office (DOJ) will be deciding on the existence or non-existence of probable cause and that eventually it will reach his table should any of the parties take an appeal or petition for review. The act of the respondent is causing injury through manifest partiality and evident bad faith against the complainant [Bantag],” he said.
Bantag also hit Remulla for his alleged “failure to coordinate” with US authorities to probe the person who allegedly sent kush or high-grade marijuana to his son, Juanito Diaz Remulla III, who is facing drug charges.
But Remulla merely brushed aside the complaints filed against him.
“No comment. Ano 'yan, I don’t know where the legal theory is coming from. It’s ok. Ano 'yan eh, he’s trying to exhaust all his possible remedies, which is to go against me personally,” he told Justice beat reporters.
“But it will not change anything. The cases will continue. Our job is to prosecute people.
The DOJ is primarily the prosecutorial arm of the government and nobody else could do it except us,” he said.
Remulla denied knowing or meeting Agojo.
“I don’t even know that person. I know he’s detained. But I don’t know even him. I never met him face to face,” he said.
He called Bantag’s complaints “desperate acts of a desperate person.”
“What else can he do?,” the DOJ chief asked.
Lapid’s brother, Roy Mabasa, declined to comment since he is not a party to the case.
“I just wish that Mr. Bantag would answer all the serious allegations against him (regarding) the killing of my brother Percy, and for the issuance of arrest warrants against him, Zulueta, et al,” he said.
DOJ prosecutors are set to resolve soon Bantag’s motion for inhibition, urging them to recuse from probing Bantag’s case due to Remulla’s alleged bias against him.
Bantag and Zulueta have yet to submit their counter-affidavits to the alleggations they masterminded the killing of Lapid and Villamor.