MANILA (UPDATED) — A Muntinlupa court has ordered the arrest of former prisons chief Gerald Bantag in connection to the death of an alleged middleman in the killing of radio commentator Percy Lapid.
The Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 issued the warrant of arrest against Bantag and his former deputy Ricardo Zulueta on April 12, 2023.
Police on Thursday morning attempted to serve the arrest warrant for Bantag at his home in Caloocan. He was not there.
Atty. Danilo Pelagio, the legal counsel of Mabasa family, welcomed the development.
"At least, umusad na ang hustisya. ‘Yung matagal na nating hinihintay na warrant of arrest ay inilabas na," he told Teleradyo.
(At least justice is moving. This warrant of arrest that we have been waiting for has finally been released.)
Pelagio added that they are still waiting for the arrest warrant from the Las Piñas Regional Trial Court for the murder of Lapid.
"May inaantay pa tayo ngayon na warrant na ilalabas ng Las Piñas RTC para naman doon sa pagpatay doon kay Percy Lapid," he explained.
(We are still waiting for the warrant coming from the Las Piñas RTC for the murder of Percy Lapid.)
Justice department prosecutors in March indicted Bantag and Zulueta for 2 counts of murder. They were tagged in the deaths of Lapid and alleged middleman Jun Villamor as principals by inducement or those who offered money or reward in exchange for the commission of the crime.
Murder is non-bailable, noted the arrest warrant issued by Judge Gener Gito against Bantag and Zulueta.
Percival Mabasa, who went by Percy Lapid in his radio show, was shot dead near his home last October after making comments online that appeared to link Bantag to corruption.
Officials have also accused Bantag of ordering the killing of Jun Villamor, a prison inmate who allegedly passed the kill order to the gunman who shot Mabasa.
Bantag had previously denied any corruption or role in the killings.
The killings have put alleged abuses in the country's overcrowded prisons in the spotlight.
After his sacking, Bantag admitted that he ordered a huge pit dug beside his home inside a Manila prison complex, but denied it was an escape tunnel for inmates.
He said he wanted to create the "deepest swimming pool" in Manila, to use for scuba diving.
Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla had said that Bantag had told him he was searching for fabled treasure stolen from around Southeast Asia by Japanese forces in World War II and rumored to be buried in the Philippines.
Bantag is said to be in Metro Manila while Zulueta is reportedly in Bulacan, according to the arrest warrant.
— With reports from Johnson Manabat and Jeff Caparas, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse