Wrong middle name in Bantag's subpoena stalls DOJ probe on Lapid-Villamor killings

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 23 2022 12:59 PM | Updated as of Nov 23 2022 01:07 PM

Bantag, Zulueta not present in DOJ probe

Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Bantag arrives during an “Oplan Galugad” inside the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City on March 4, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File 
Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Bantag arrives during an “Oplan Galugad” inside the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City on March 4, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File 

MANILA — A wrong middle name in the subpoena served on the lawyer of Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag stalled on Wednesday the justice department’s probe on the killings of radio commentator Percy Lapid and alleged middleman Jun Villamor. 

Lawyer Rocky Tomas Balisong, Bantag’s lawyer, pointed out during the hearing that the subpoena he received on Monday was addressed to a certain Gerald “Soriano” Bantag while his client’s name is Gerald “Quitaleg” Bantag. 

A copy of the subpoena shows that while “Quitaleg” was indicated as Bantag’s middle name in the title of the case, “Soriano” was indicated in the salutation, which bears the name of the person to whom the subpoena was addressed.

“It is fatal because it refers to 2 different individuals. Definitely Gerald Bantag y Soriano is not our client. It is Gerald Bantag y Quitaleg,” Balisong told reporters after the first setting of the consolidated probe.

He said he already spotted the error on Monday.

“We just noted it na talagang pati yung sinerve sa Caloocan ganoon din. So we have to manifest it today,” he said. 

(We just noted it, that even the one served in Caloocan is the same.)

Subpoena for Bantag. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News
Subpoena for Bantag. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

But why did he not raise the wrong middle name in the subpoena when he received it on Monday? 

“This is the proper time and forum kasi. It has to be brought to the attention of the panel and not just anybody,” he said in a text message to ABS-CBN News.
Senior assistant state prosecutor Charlie Guhit did not share Balisong’s view. 

“It’s not fatal,” he told the media, saying the mistake has been cured with the service on Wednesday of a new subpoena with the correct name.

But he refused to discuss why the error happened, promising to address it in a press briefer the prosecutors will issue.

Lapid’s brother, Roy Mabasa, who attended the probe, said he spotted the mistake a few days ago. 

“Actually bago binanggit 'yan, a few days ago nakita ko na yan. Meron nag-point out sa akin na listener ni Ka Percy, baka magkaroon nga raw ng problema. So yun, kanina, kinlaro naman,” he told reporters.

(Before it was mentioned, I saw it a few days ago. A listener of Ka Percy pointed it out to me, saying there could be a problem. So it was clarified today.) 

Despite the error, Mabasa remained confident that the prosecutors are performing their functions regularly.

“Part yun ng paghahanap ng hustisya na magkakaroon ng delays but umaasa tayo…fair naman ang mga prosecutors natin kanina. Sinabihan sila na sa susunod ay dapat handa sila sa kanilang mga ifa-file na counter-affidavits,” he said. 

“Kami, hindi nagmamadali. Ang hinahanap po namin dito ay hustisya. Alam naman namin na sa paghahanap ng hustisya, hindi po madali ang prosesong ito,” he added.

(That is part of seeking justice, that there will be delays, but we remain hopeful. Our prosecutors were fair. They were told that they should be ready with the counter-affidavits they would file. We are not in a rush. What we are seeking here is justice. We know that this process is not easy.)

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As earlier announced by his lawyer, Bantag skipped Wednesday’s probe. 

Balisong said his client might attend the next hearing on Dec. 5 via Zoom since the panel of prosecutors allowed it.

Bureau of Corrections inmates who are currently under the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation attended via Zoom although their lawyers were present during the hearing. 

Former BuCor deputy security officer Supt. Ricardo Zulueta, whose whereabouts are still unknown, was not represented and not present during the probe. 

Mabasa had said Zulueta’s continued absence could affect the outcome of the probe since he is “among the vital pieces” of the case.

On Wednesday, Mabasa hinted the PNP is following new leads which he said might indicate that Zulueta is still alive.

Self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial attended the probe with his lawyer Daniel Alviar.

Escorial had already subscribed to 2 affidavits in the first murder complaint before the DOJ. Alviar said they would have to assess the new complaints and affidavits if his client will need to submit a new one.

The sister of Villamor, “Marisa,” was escorted by Witness Protection Program staff. 

Marisa had said she received messages from her brother Jun identifying who were involved in Lapid’s Oct. 3 killing before Jun himself died inside the New Bilibid Prison on Oct. 18.

A re-autopsy conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun ruled he was killed by suffocation with plastic.

Three other respondents — the brothers Israel and Edmond Dimaculangan and a certain Orly who allegedly accompanied Escorial during the killing of Lapid in Las Piñas — were not present and were not represented during the probe. They remained at large as of writing.

Metro Manila police chief PBGen. Jonnel Estomo also attended the probe but declined to give any statement.

Mabasa said he hoped Bantag would show up during the next hearing.

“Sana dumalo na siya sa susunod dahil dito naman lahat nung respondents ay nag daluhan na so siya na lang yung missing piece dito sa ginawa ng DOJ,” he said.

(I hope he attends next time because all respondents attended so he is the only missing piece in the DOJ's probe.) 

The next setting for the DOJ probe is scheduled on Dec. 5 at 1 p.m.