'Wala kaming nakikitang iba': Justice Secretary Remulla rules out other suspects in Lapid-Villamor slay

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 08 2022 02:25 PM | Updated as of Nov 08 2022 02:33 PM

MANILA — A day after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) filed 2 murder complaints against suspended Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag, a former BuCor official and several inmates over the killings of radio commentator Percy Lapid and alleged middleman Jun Villamor, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla on Tuesday ruled out the involvement of other suspects in the two cases.

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“Wala kaming nakikitang iba,” he told reporters at the Department of Justice.

Aside from Bantag, also named as respondent in the 2 murder complaints is BuCor Directorate for Security and Operations Superintendent Ricardo Zulueta, as well as gang commanders and inmates who supposedly facilitated the killing of Lapid through self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial on October 3 and 4 inmates who allegedly suffocated Villamor inside the New Bilibid Prison on October 18.

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Both the Mabasa family and the National Bureau of Investigation have raised the possibility that someone higher could be behind the Lapid and Villamor killing.

“Tignan natin. Pero ano nga eh, sinasabi ko nga sa inyo, everything is possible. But from what we have, it starts there, wala pa tayong nakikitang iba. We just follow the money and we just follow the evidence. Mahirap magspeculate eh,” he said.

“When you enter the realm of speculation we’re not doing the country a favor. Let’s just stay true to ourselves,” he added.

Diagram of the people allegedly involved in the Percy Lapid murder. Photo from NBI/PNP
Diagram of the people allegedly involved in the Percy Lapid murder. Photo from NBI/PNP

Remulla said they are waiting for the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s official report to trace the money trail.

AMLC earlier confirmed Escorial’s bank account received P550,000, the same amount offered to kill Lapid.

What was not yet clear in AMLC’s preliminary report is where the money came from.

“You follow the money. Sa Escorial, yung pagpasok sa kanya saan nanggaling, if it matches the stories of the witnesses. Kasi yun yun e. The narratives should match,” he said.

Despite the filing of complaints on Monday, the Justice chief said the case is not yet closed.

"Ongoing pa rin yung investigaiton. We’re still getting some facts. And a lot of people are coming forward with more information,” he said.

Remulla said he hopes Bantag and Zulueta, who are tagged as the masterminds in the Lapid and Villamor killings, will just cooperate. 

Authorities said Zulueta went on absence without leave (AWOL) and has gone into hiding while they are still monitoring the whereabouts of Bantag.

“I hope they just cooperate kasi...Flight is an indication of guilt. Pag hindi sila nagsubmit sa preliminary investigation, ibig sabihin may tinatago sila. Marami silang sinabi sa media, bakit di nila sabihin sa fiscal?,” he said.

Remulla on Monday initially said they are looking at issuing an immigration lookout bulletin order (ILBO) against Bantag and Zulueta but he said an ILBO will no longer be needed because the 2 are public officials who can't leave the country without any travel authority.

"Ang mas mahalaga lang talaga dito, we are already filing a hold departure order. I already instructed the staff to start,” he said.

Remulla said they have yet to finalize the prosecutors assigned to probe the Lapid/Villamor murder complaints but hopes to finish before Friday, when he leaves for Geneva, Switzerland for another human rights conference.

He said he was initially eyeing another person/group as the mastermind behind the Lapid killing.

"I was hoping that I could point to the drug lords and not Bantag. Ito yung lumabas sa facts e,” he said.

The Justice secretary also defended his active involvement in the probe on the killings.

“I only came in because of the killing of Percy Lapid. Not that alone, but because Jun Villamor, a witness and a co-conspirator, was killed inside Bilibid or died mysteriously in Bilibid. That’s why the DOJ directly investigated this already. If not for that, this is a police matter,” he said.

“Kaya lang nung meron na talaga sa loob ng Bilibid, the connection is there, tayo lang ang merong responsibility gawin yan kasi it’s definitely under the Department of Justice,” he added.

Remulla said he has talked to BuCor OIC Gen. Gregorio Catapang about addressing the "criminal organization" in Bilibid. 

He pointed out in Monday's presser the presence of contraband like beer and how there seems to be a centralized purchasing system.

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