Murder raps filed vs Bantag, BuCor official in Lapid/Villamor killings

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 07 2022 01:09 PM | Updated as of Nov 07 2022 03:27 PM

MANILA — The National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Monday filed 2 separate murder complaints before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against suspended Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag and another Bureau of Corrections official tagged as masterminds in the killing of radio commentator Percy Lapid and the alleged middleman Crisanto/Jun Villamor.

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Justice Sec Boying Remulla announces complaints in the Lapid/Villamor killings have been filed vs perpetrators before the DOJ. Interior Sec Benhur Abalos says they studied complaints thoroughly. Photo by Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Bantag was identified as a principal by inducement in both killings, along with BuCor Directorate for Security and Operations SJO2 Ricardo Zulueta, which means they supposedly ordered the killings.

“It was found through the investigation that both Director-General Gerald Bantag and DSO Ricardo Zulueta were behind the killing of both Percy Lapid and Jun Villamor,” NBI’s Atty. Eugene Javier said during the press conference, reading a joint statement.

The motive was supposedly Lapid’s “continued exposé” against Bantag on his program “Lapid Fire.” Zulueta supposedly sent a video of Lapid slamming Bantag to gang commanders, who allegedly facilitated the killing, in order to identify Lapid. 

The motive for killing Villamor was supposedly to cover up for Lapid’s killing. Villamor was supposedly suffocated with a plastic bag on October 18, the same day self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial identified him as the middleman.

Along with Bantag and Zulueta, 4 inmates who are gang commanders were also named as respondents for the killing of Lapid — Denver Mayores, Alvin Labra, Aldrin Galicia and Alfie Peñaredonda — who supposedly participated in the killing by “indispensible cooperation.

“The sworn statements of the PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) show a clear and direct line of communication from the Director-General and DSO Ricardo Zulueta to Denver Mayores who communicated with Alvin Labra who then coordinated with Aldrin Galicia who then orchestrated and executed the killing of Percy Lapid through his Gang members and his Gang members’ contacts on the outside ultimately ending with gunman Joel Escorial and his group,” the joint statement said.

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Here's a diagram of the people allegedly involved in the Percy Lapid murder. Photo from NBI/PNP

Based on the diagram presented by authorities, it was BCJ gang commander Labra and Sputnik Gang commander Galicia who talked to Villamor. Villamor then talked to BJMP inmate Christopher Bacoto who found Escorial.

Escorial had earlier confessed to the killing and claimed he received the order from Bilibid inmate Villamor, who offered P550,000 in exchange for the killing.

That money was later confirmed to have entered Escorial’s bank account according Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, citing the report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Meanwhile, 8 inmates were impleaded as Bantag’s and Zulueta’s co-respondents for the killing of Villamor.

Labra, Galicia, Mario Alvarez and Joseph Georfo supposedly helped facilitate the killing of Villamor while inmates Christian Ramac, Ricky Salgado, Ronnie dela Cruz and Joel Reyes killed Villamor inside his jail cell at the maximum security prison at the national penitentiary.

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Here's a diagram of the people allegedly involved in the Jun Villamor murder. Photo from NBI/PNP

“With respect to Jun Villamor, the same sworn statements of the PDLs show a similar clear and direct line of communication from the Director-General and DSO Ricardo Zulueta to Denver Mayores who communicated with Alvin Labra who then coordinated with Aldrin Galicia who then orchestrated and executed the killing of Jun Villamor through his Gang members. This time, Jun Villamor was suffocated to death by a plastic bag and held by his own Gang members,” the joint statement said.

“This unique circumstance shows that the order came from a high official of the BuCor. One usually seeks refuge and protection from his own Gang members. The fact that they killed one of their own means and indicates that there were instructions from the top and the Gang simply had no choice but to execute,” it added.

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos, NBI Director Medardo de Lemos and PNP NCRPO chief PBGen Jonnel Estomo led the filing before Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon on Monday morning, before a press conference led by Remulla and Abalos was held at the DOJ. PNP chief Rodolfo Azurin was also present in the presscon.

Key to establishing a case against the respondents are the Facebook messages sent by Villamor to his sister at 11:59 am of October 18, just hours before his death, which authorities consider a “dying declaration.”

Villamor named Labra, Galicia and Peñaredonda as the 3 gang commanders who allegedly ordered Lapid’s killing and the order supposedly came from the “opisina” or BuCor office.

Asked if there’s a direct link between Bantag and the perpetrators of the killings, Remulla invoked the “totality test.”

“The principle that we adopted here in charging the mastermind is the totality of all the facts given to us by all the witnesses and all the circumstances attendant to the killing. So it's a totality test. It's not for us to point out the direct link but the totality of all the acts points out to the participation of and responsibility of those being charged,” he said.

Bantag and Zulueta were not subpoenaed by the NBI-PNP joint probe Remulla said they will be given a chance to answer the allegations during the preliminary investigation at the DOJ.

“Pinag-aralan nang husto, tinanong lahat ng testigo and you know this is an exceptional case. None of these people would have talked if Gen. Bantag remained as the head of the BuCor. The fear of Gen. Bantag is just tremendous and unbelievable from the eyes of these PDLs so that maybe we can say that we thought it best that in conducting the investigation that we let Gen. Bantag answer the charges formally with the fiscal's office,” he said.

The PNP and the NBI said Zulueta has gone into hiding while there are no outstanding warrants of arrests for him and Bantag.

Remulla said the DOJ intends to issue an immigration lookout bulletin order against Bantag and Zulueta.

While an ILBO does not prevent them from leaving the country unlike a hold departure ordre, it requires immigration personnel to alert DOJ officials should any of the subjects attempt to leave the country. 

Both Remulla and Abalos called on Bantag and Zulueta to surrender.

“I plead to Zulueta to just surrender right now. Just like the gunman who surrendered, napag-isipan niya na in danger ang buhay niya,” Abalos said.

“I’d like to ask Zulueta and DG Bantag to surrender and to face the charges. If they are innocent, the law will uphold them. If they’re guilty, then, they will have to face to consequences,” Remulla said.

Bantag had earlier denied involvement in the case and has vowed he will not be jailed, crying persecution.

The justice chief pushed back against Bantag’s claim.

“Yung persecution, I don't think that's within our realm kasi persecution is not the game of the DOJ. We are here to seek justice. I don't think that somebody who is the director general of the BuCor can be persecuted. It is one of the things that does not happen and if you look at it, he will be probably be the highest official of this land ever charged with a case of this gravity. It just so happened eh. Hindi tayo namimili rito, wala tayong sinisino,” he said.


Meanwhile, the spokesperson and lawyer of the Mabasa family are still not discounting the possibility that there might be other masterminds involved in the Lapid and Villamor killings, even though they are convinced there is a strong link between Bantag and other perpetrators.

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Atty. Danilo Pelagio, lawyer for Mabasa family, says that he personally feels the investigation has been satisfactory. Photo by Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

“We are entertaining the possibility that there are co-masterminds,” Causing said, explaining it could have been done through a simple call to Bantag.

They said a new case could be filed if that happens.

“If in the course of the trial, a new name crops up, we will look into that with the assistance of the prosecutor,” Pelagio said.