MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — An alleged "middleman" who supposedly facilitated the murder last Oct. 3 of Percival Mabasa, more known as "Percy Lapid", has died at the national penitentiary, the Department of Justice said on Thursday.
Crisanto Villamor, Jr., according to Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla, died inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City on Tuesday afternoon.
According to the death certificate of the alleged intermediary, the cause of death is “undetermined”. A document obtained by ABS-CBN News showed that Villamor, 42, an inmate at the NBP, died at the NBP Hospital at 2:05 p.m. of Oct. 18.
An autopsy was conducted Thursday afternoon by the National Bureau of Investigation upon the request of the Bureau of Corrections.
Personnel of the funeral home told ABS-CBN News they took the remains of the alleged middleman from the NBP Hospital last Tuesday evening.
So far, no family member of the deceased has claimed the remains, they added.
HOW THE MIDDLEMAN SURFACED
Joel Escorial, who had supposedly surrendered to authorities and admitted to having gunned down Mabasa, positively identified Villamor as the middleman through a photo, police said.
Escorial was presented to the media on Tuesday morning, during which he claimed that he and three others took part in the ambush on orders from an unnamed person in Bilibid, and later split the P550,000 reward among themselves.
Escorial, who named his three co-conspirators that are still at large, did not cite the motive nor identify the mastermind behind the killing.
Mabasa was shot dead in a Las Piñas suburb by motorcycle-riding suspects as he drove to his studio. Police said it is highly probable the killing was related to his work.
"We are saddened by the report (regarding) the mysterious death of the alleged middleman on the Percy Lapid killing inside the NBP facility," said his brother Roy Mabasa.
Only on Wednesday, Roy urged authorities to secure the alleged middleman amid fears that the person could end up to be another dead inmate like what happened to some high-profile detainees at the NBP.
"I think, from what I gathered from the police, meron silang identity nitong sinasabing middleman. At meron silang record nito. Nakakulong nga ito sa Bilibid. So, I hope hindi natin palalagpasin itong pagkakataon na maiharap ito, at makunan ng sariling statement, at maituro sa mas lalong madaling panahon kung sino yung mastermind," Roy told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo in an interview that day.
"Kasi, kinakabahan tayo kapag ang kwento ay 'galing sa Bilibid', sapagkat sariwa pa sa ating kaisipan yung namatay na mga high-profile inmates diyan sa loob ng Bilibid. Especially nung kasagsagan ng COVID, idineklarang puro COVID ang sakit ng mga ito (kaya) namatay, na abo na lang ang makikita natin. Samakatuwid, natatakot tayong maging ganun ang kauuwian nitong ating middle man," he added.
Following the presentation of Escorial to the public last Tuesday, Roy said he told Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos to secure the alleged contact or suspected middleman at the national penitentiary, warning that if something happens to that person, "we'll all be facing the dead end."
On Thursday night, police said that aside from the middleman imprisoned at the NBP, another one is at a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facility.
Percival Mabasa was the second journalist to be killed since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office on June 30, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
Mabasa was an outspoken critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte, as well as of Marcos' policies and aides.
The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, and most of the killers often go unpunished.
— With reports from Johnson Manabat and Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News; and Agence France-Presse