MANILA (UPDATED) — Justice department prosecutors have indicted suspended Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag and several others for 2 counts of murder over the killing of radio commentator Percy Lapid and alleged middleman Jun Villamor, based on a copy of the resolution obtained by ABS-CBN News.
Bantag and his former deputy Ricardo Zulueta are tagged in the 2 killings as principals by inducement or those who offer money or reward in exchange for the commission of a crime.
LAPID MURDER CASE
In the resolution dated March 9, 2023, prosecutors found probable cause to charge the accused for Lapid’s murder relying largely on the extrajudicial confession of self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial.
Escorial admitted shooting Lapid outside his subdivision in Las Piñas on October 3, 2022 with 3 companions who remain at large, in exchange for P550,000.
Prosecutors said they found evidence of receipt and distribution of the money.
Escorial and his companions Israel Dimaculangan, Edmon Dimaculangan and alias Orly are tagged as principals by direct participation.
Five persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) or inmates are considered principals by indispensable cooperation, namely, Denver Mayores, Alvin Labra, Aldrin Galicia, Alfie Peñaredonda and Christopher Bacoto.
Escorial pointed to Bacoto and the slain Villamor as the ones who allegedly contacted him to kill Lapid.
Prosecutors said that without the cooperation of the PDLs, the killing could not have been achieved.
While the PDLs identified Zulueta as the person who allegedly called one of the inmates to give orders to assassinate Lapid, there was no direct evidence linking Bantag to the killing.
However, prosecutors cited several circumstantial evidence indicating Bantag’s involvement such as the mention of the terms “itaas” and “tanda” to supposedly refer to Bantag. They also considered Zulueta’s close relationship to Bantag.
Prosecutors also gave value to Escorial’s statement that Villamor allegedly told him on the evening of October 16, 2022, 2 days before Villamor was killed, that it was “Bantag” who ordered the Lapid killing.
“Although the credibility of respondent Escorial is being questioned, case law provides that the presumption that no person of normal mind would deliberately and knowingly confess to a crime unless prompted by truth and conscience such that it is presumed to be voluntary until the contrary is proved stands,” the resolution said.
VILLAMOR MURDER CASE
As for the Villamor killing, New Bilibid Prison gang leaders Alvin Labra and Aldrin Galicia are also tagged as principals by inducement, along with Bantag and Zulueta.
Six other PDLs are implicated as principals by direct participation. They include Mario Alvarez, Joseph Georfo alias Jurpo, Christian Ramac alias Jokon, Ricky Salgado alias Lupin, Ronnie dela Cruz alias Barok and Joel Reyes alias Puppet, who were allegedly involved in killing Villamor by suffocating him inside his jail cell at NBP.
Prosecutors gave weight to the so-called dying declaration that Villamor made to his sister through a Facebook chat just before he was killed inside the NBP on October 18, 2022 disclosing who were supposedly involved in his death.
Based on testimonies of PDLs, it was Zulueta who allegedly summoned Labra to order the killing of Villamor in a cover-up attempt, after Villamor’s name was mentioned by Escorial as being involved in Lapid’s killing.
“Being the middleman identified in the killing of Percival [Lapid], Villamor had to be eliminated as his identification will potentially lead or uncover who the mastermind is. This is the motive behind the killing of Villamor. That is clear from the Sinumpaang Salaysay of respondent Labra that respondent Zulueta ordered the killing of Villamor,” the resolution said.
“Respondent Zulueta even added that his name and that of respondent Bantag should not come out from Villamor. This fact, albeit hearsay, is considered as an independently relevant statement. It clearly demonstrates that respondent Bantag, ordered the killing of Villamor,” it added.
A reliable DOJ source told ABS-CBN News the 2 murder cases have been filed before a Muntinlupa court for Villamor, while the other 1 for Lapid has also been filed before a Las Piñas court.
The courts will decide if there is probable cause to issue warrants of arrest against the accused.
MABASA FAMILY REACTION
In a phone interview with Justice beat reporters, Lapid/Mabasa family's lawyer, Danny Pelagio, said they have been expecting and are already aware of the resolution indicting Bantag.
"Nagagalak naman ang pamilya Mabasa dahil natapos rin yung pag-aantay ng ilang buwan ng ilang buwan para makasuhan ng 2 counts of murder si General Bantag at Zulueta,” Pelagio said.
"This is a fitting birthday gift to Percy Lapid kasi ngayon nilabas officially although nalaman na namin ito a few days ahead although ngayon nilabas na officially ng DOH itong kay Percy Lapid kasi birthday ni Percy Lapid ngayon araw," he added.
Pelagio also said that they intend to meet with DOJ but they are aware that the Bantag camp has its legal options as well.
“Itong kampo ni Bantag may mga remedyo pa 'yan may mga legal remedies pa sila like filing a motion for reconsideration tsaka filing a petition for review sa DOJ,” Pelagio said.
Bantag's lawyer Rocky Thomas Balisong said they "will be filing the necessary pleadings after going over the resolution."
—with a report from Jeck Batallones, ABS-CBN News