Bantag argues Ombudsman should conduct probe, not DOJ
MANILA (UPDATED) — Suspended prisons chief Gerald Bantag on Monday attended for the first time the Department of Justice's investigation on whether there is enough evidence to charge him over the killing of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa and alleged murder middleman Jun Villamor.
Police alleged that Bantag and his deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta were behind the murder of Mabasa, who went by the name Percy Lapid in his radio program where he criticized several government officials and policies.
Wearing a black t-shirt with images of skulls on one side, Bantag arrived just before the 1 p.m. probe, waving to the media waiting for his arrival. He was accompanied by his lawyer, Rocky Thomas Balisong.
Bantag said he has subscribed to his counter-affidavit before a Baguio City prosecutor, but chose to attend Monday's proceedings in person to file additional documents.
The additional documents turned out to be a motion for inhibition, asking the DOJ panel of prosecutors to inhibit from handling the preliminary investigation because it’s the Ombudsman who supposedly has jurisdiction over the probe, citing the Constitution.
“Look at Article 11, section 13, paragraph 1 which gives the power of the Ombudsman to investigate all cases committed by public officials when it appears to be illegal, improper. Those cases falls between the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to investigate. It doesn’t make any distinction whether this crime falls within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan or the regular court,” Bantag’s lawyer, Balisong told the media.
“We also cited the provision of section 15, in relation to section 11 of Republic Act 6770 or the Ombudsman Act of 1989 which gives power to the Ombudsman to investigate cases falling within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan and in conjunction with the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Uy vs. Sandiganbayan, where the Supreme Court reiterated that the Ombudsman has the power to investigate cases like this whether it falls within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan or the regular courts,” he added.
Balisong said Bantag’s post is salary grade 30, beyond the salary grade 27 threshold for Sandiganbayan cases.
In his motion for inhibition, Bantag also cited the “bad blood” between him and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, accusing the latter of prejudging the case.
“Even before Bantag could be issued a subpoena, SOJ Remulla urged him to surrender already. He maliciously pictured him as a fugitive in his effort to get the public to condemn Bantag. The SOJ’s inordinate haste manifested his nervous expectation that, unless Bantag was detained, other names would be vulnerable to suspicion to the point that, even if the private complainants had wanted more names, he concluded the search for the mastermind,” read the motion.
“Bantag cannot expect justice, impartiality and fairness from the Department of Justice (DOJ) at this time. He is the enemy of its head; hence, with due respect, Bantag can never be assured of the neutrality of its members,” it continued.
Due to the motion, Balisong said Bantag has not yet submitted his counter-affidavit.
Suspended Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag arrives at the DOJ to attend the probe on the Percy Lapid-Jun Villamor slay. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News
Senior Assistant Deputy State Prosecutor Charlie Guhit said the panel of prosecutors needed to resolve the motion first.
“We will resolve the motion for inhibition. So we will determine whether mag-submit si respondent, DG Bantag, ng counter-affidavit kapag ka na-resolve 'yong motion for inhibition at may ground for the panel not to inhibit. So if the panel would inhibit, assuming there's a ground for inhibition, then another forum will hear the preliminary investigation,” he explained.
The parties were given 7 days to comment on Bantag’s motion for inhibition.
Both the PNP and Roy Mabasa, Percy’s brother, said they would oppose Bantag’s motion.
“We believe, of course under the law, that it is within the power of the Department of Justice and the panel of prosecutors to determine whether or not there is probable cause and also regarding the preliminary investigation, we believe that they are authorized under the law to conduct the preliminary investigation,” Police Capt. Queeny Virtusio, PNP Southern Police District legal officer said.
“Ito ay io-oppose namin ano sapagkat kami naman ay may karapatan. Subalit ang sa akin lang ay will state our position that bawat araw, bawat oras na ma-delay dito ay injustice sa pamilya ni Ka Percy,” Roy said, anticipating more delays as the Christmas holidays set in.
(We will oppose this because we have a right to do so. However, we will state our position that every day, every hour of delay here is an injustice against the family of Ka Percy.)
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla meanwhile rejected Bantag’s motion, saying inhibition is not a question in the probe because the DOJ is executive, not judicial.
But he welcomed Bantag’s presence during Monday’s probe.
“Mabuti naman. Igalang niya batas. Sana lagi niya ginagalang batas mula nung simula,” he said.
(It's good. He should respect the law. I just wish that he had respected the law from the start.)
Bantag, for his part, said he was not hiding.
“Salita kasing Igorot yung patago-tago, di ba? Pero hindi nagtatago,” he said.
Bantag however did not directly answer what his counter-affidavit contains.
“Di ko matandaan sa dami,” he said just before the hearing.
(I can't recall because it's a lot.)
Asked again by the media just as we has about to leave the DOJ, he said he had no copy of his counter-affidavit.
He then boarded a jeepney along Padre Faura, while waving to the media.
Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News
It was Balisong who gave the media a preview of Bantag’s counter-affidavit.
“Well, generally we have denied. We have seen serious inconsistencies. Marami, marami. Doon sa extrajudicial confession ni Joel Escorial medyo may inconsistency na agad doon in relation doon sa statement ni Galicia at saka ni Labra,” he said, referring to self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial and gang leaders Alvin Labra and Aldrin Galicia, who all executed their sworn statements.
(In the extrajudicial confession of Joel Escorial, there were some inconsistencies with the statement of Galicia and Labra.)
“In the death of Villamor naman, Jun Villamor, we noted that Jun Villamor who died in the Bilibid Prison and who was autopsied by the NBI and was found to have died of natural causes is different from Crisanto Villamor Palana or Cristito Palana Villamor. So those are again 2 different individuals yun so we do not know if our client is being charged for the death of Cristito or Crisanto Palana Villamor, or Cristito Villamor Palana, or Jun Villamor y Globa,” he added.
Bantag had skipped the preliminary probe last Nov. 23, which was delayed by an error in his middle name in the subpoena. His lawyer represented him during the earlier proceedings.
Bantag and Zulueta were also accused of ordering the murder of Villamor, an inmate at the New Bilibid Prison who allegedly served as intermediary in Mabasa's murder.
The suspended Bureau of Corrections chief earlier denied involvement in Mabasa's killing, while the whereabouts of Zulueta remained unknown.