MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The suspected gunman in the killing of broadcaster Percy Lapid is now under police custody, the interior department said on Tuesday.
Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. presented the suspect, identified as Joel Estorial, in a press conference in Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police, in Quezon City.
Clad in a bulletproof vest and helmet, Estorial said he voluntarily surrendered to authorities out of fear for his life after he appeared in a surveillance footage that was released to the media.
"Lumabas na po iyong mukha ko sa TV po.... Natakot po ako. Saka nakonsensya [po ako] sa paggawa kay Percy Lapid po," Estorial said.
(My face appeared on TV. I was scared. And I felt guilty for what I did to Percy Lapid.)
He claimed that orders to kill Lapid allegedly came from inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
During the night of Lapid's murder on Oct. 3, Estorial said he was with three other accomplices: a certain "Orlando" aka "Orly", and 2 other men who are siblings, identified as Israel and Edmon Dimaculangan.
He said "Orly" drove the motorcycle, while Israel served as lookout.
"Kasi po, ang usapan po namin doon, kung sino ang matapat doon sa kay Percy, siya po ang babaril. Eh nagkataon po, natapat sa akin. Sabi naman po, pag di ko binaril, ako po ang papatayin. Kaya binaril ko na po si Percy," Estrorial said.
(We agreed that whoever is nearest to Percy will be the one to shoot him. It happened that I was nearest to him. I was told that if I didn't shoot, I would get killed, so I shot Percy.)
Asked by Abalos who told him to shoot Lapid or be killed, Estorial said: "Si Orly po."
(It was Orly.)
He said that he and his cohorts were given a total of P550,000 for the hit. His cut, amounting to P140,000, was wired to his bank account after the murder.
"Nadala lang po ako ng kahirapan. Wala po kasi akong trabaho, Sir," Estorial said.
(It was poverty that pushed me to do this. I am jobless, sir.)
He apologized to the family of Lapid, who was Percival Mabasa in real life, for his role in the broadcaster's murder.
"Sana po, mapatawad po ako nila. Hindi ko naman kagustuhan iyon."
(I hope they could forgive me. It wasn't what I wanted.)
Abalos assured that Estorial was not a fall guy, citing several pieces of evidence such as the firearm used, the surveillance footage, and his clothes.
The DILG chief said Estorial made a confession, duly assisted by his legal counsel.
"This is a major breakthrough... This is great police work, binacktrack po iyan, tiniyaga iyan ng ating kapulisan," Abalos said.
(Our police backtracked and worked thoroughly on this investigation.)
He called on the other suspects to surrender to authorities.
"Kayong magkapatid, ako'y nananawagan na rin, sumuko na ang gunman. Mas mabuting sumuko na rin kayo, dahil talagang naramdaman niya mismo na delikado ang buhay niya. At baka iyon din ang mangyari sa inyo," he said.
(I am calling on the siblings to surrender, now that the gunman has surrendered. It would be better if you do likewise, because Joel already felt that his life was in danger. The same thing might happen to you.)
The development came two weeks after Mabasa was shot dead on his way to work in Las Piñas City. He was laid to rest on Oct. 9.
Police have said it is highly probable that the attack was related to Mabasa's work.
Following Estorial's surrender, Mabasa's family thanked the Philippine National Police (PNP) for the development on the slain broadcaster's case.
"We hope this development leads to the identification, arrest and prosecution of the mastermind," his family said in a statement.
"We hope Percy does not become part of the statistics and continue to clamor for justice for Percy and the nearly 200 journalists killed since 1986," their statement added.
Mabasa's brother, Roy, told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo that the reported surrender of Estorial is just one step in achieving justice.
"Hangga't nakalaya 'yang mga 'yan (masterminds) ay hindi matatahimik ang pamilya namin," he said.
(As long as the masterminds remain at large, our family will not have peace of mind.)
But Roy said he is not fully convinced of the narration Estorial made during the press conference.
"Gusto ko sana, kung meron kayong CCTV footage diyan ay ipag-match natin yung itsura nitong dalawang taong ito sapagkat parang hindi magkamukha," he said.
(I hope there will be a matching with the images from the CCTV footage because they don't seem to look the same.)
"I'm just a layman. I'm a journalist. I covered the police for quite some time. Pero hindi naman siguro tayo mahina ang paningin ano pagdating sa ganyang mga bagay. Again, I don't want to criticize the work of our police. But medyo magpakatotoo naman tayo nang konti," he added.
(But I don't think we're that deficient in terms of making this visual assessments... But let us be honest here.)
"Sana man lang, nagkaroon ako ng pagkakataon masilayan itong pagmumukha nito dahil hindi ako kumbinsido. Tinitingnan ko yung mga CCTV footage ngayon lang, hindi ko nakikita yung pagkakahawig."
(I hope I had the chance to see in person this suspect because right now, I'm not convinced. I'm looking at the CCTV footage now, and I can't see any semblance.)
Roy said he also told Abalos to secure the alleged contact or suspected middle man at the national penitentiary, warning that if something happens to that person, "we'll all be facing the dead end."
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that he while he wasn't briefed yet on the surrender as of writing, he will look into claims that the orders for Mabasa's hit came from the NBP.
"Sa loob ng Bilibid, kung sino man yan, dapat malaman natin. Ilalabas natin iyan," he said.
(If it's from inside Bilibid, whoever that is, we need to know and get the word out.)
In a Facebook post, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) described Estorial's surrender "as a positive development towards accountability for Mabasa's murder."
"We hope that this arrest will lead to the identification, arrest and prosecution of whoever ordered and paid for the killing of our colleague," the NUJP said.
"Accountability in this case will help chip away at the culture of impunity around journalist killings that media, civil society and government agencies have been working to change," the group added.
Senators Koko Pimentel and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. have also called on the PNP to conduct a deeper investigation into Mabasa's killing following Estorial's surrender.
For Pimentel, Estorial turning himself in is only an "initial step" and the PNP must assign its best investigators to pursue and capture the mastermind behind the crime.
Revilla filed a Senate resolution to seek a probe into claims that the orders for Mabasa's hit allegedly came from the NBP.
Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag said internal investigations have been conducted to look further into Estorial's claims.
"We in BuCor will not tolerate this and we are open to any inquiry as we are serious in our job and would always endeavor to improve our systems if indeed there had been lapses," Chaclag told reporters.
"It is wrong in all sense that a prisoner can still be able to communicate with his cohorts to perform criminal acts outside," he added.
- with Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News