PNP: Pieces of evidence vs Bantag, et al are overwhelming

The pieces evidence against suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director general Gerardo Bantag and his deputy Ricardo Zulueta in the hit job against broadcast journalist Percival Mabasa and the subsequent cover up attempt that led to the death of suspected middleman Jun Villamor are overwhelming, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said.

PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin, Jr, said that of all the 160 persons of interest tagged in the killing of Mabasa, the circumstances and the key players in the assassination pointed to Bantag as the mastermind.

"We have a strong evidence-based case that we filed against several persons including suspended BuCor Director General Gerald Q Bantag and Deputy Security Officer Ricardo Soriano Zulueta as principals by inducement," said Azurin in a statement.

The pieces of evidence are also strong against New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) inmates Denver Batungbakal Mayores, Alvin Labra, Aldrin Galicia, and Alfie Peñaredonda, as principals by indispensable cooperation for the Murder of Percy Mabasa, according to Azurin.

Citing the result of the joint investigation of the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Azurin explained that the continued expose of Mabasa, more known as Percy Lapid, against the alleged ill-gotten wealth of Bantag is a strong motive.

In his program Lapid Fire, Mabasa exposed the alleged ownership of more than 10 vehicles of Bantag that were all parked in front of his house in a posh subdivision.

It was in the same program that Mabasa also played a video clip showing the alleged house and cars owned by Bantag and likewise questioned the ways the BuCor top official obtained all of them.

Department of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that a video link of Mabasa's expose was sent to the top leaders of at least three groups of inmates in September this year. The gang leaders then raised a portion of the P550,000 contract and tapped some of their members to form a group that eventually killed Mabasa on Oct. 3 in Las Piñas City.

"Thru the PDL’s (Persons Deprived of Liberty) sworn statements, Director General Bantag’s participation to the killing was evidenced by a clear showing of a direct line of communication from him and Deputy Security Officer (DSO) Ricardo Zulueta to Denver Mayores who subsequently relayed the instructions to other gang members," said Azurin.

What further pinned down those charged, according to the investigation, was the "dying declaration" of Villamor to his sister wherein he named those who ordered the hit job and asked her to expose them if he would die inside the NBP.

Villamor died on Oct. 18, a day after self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial surrendered to the police. An independent autopsy disclosed that Villamor was killed by suffocating him using a plastic bag.

Based on the NBI investigation, the killing of Villamor was carried out by members of a gang of which he was a member.

In a statement issued by the DOJ, the fact that Villamor was killed by his fellow gang members is a strong indication that there was a pressure from the higher ups to have him killed.

The death of Villamor, based on the investigation, is a cover-up attempt.

Azurin said both Bantag and Zulueta are also accused as principals by inducement in the Murder of middleman Cristito Villamor Palana along with national prisoners Alvin Labra, Aldrin Galicia, Mario Alvarez, and Joseph Georfo as principals by indispensable cooperation; and national prisoners Christam Ramac, Ricky Salgado, Ronnie Dela Cruz, and Joel Reyes as principals by direct participation.

"The PNP assures the family of Percy Lapid of our continued active collaboration with the DOJ in the pursuit to bring full closure to this case," said Azurin.

"We likewise assure our journalists and the public in general that the PNP is doing its best to prevent the occurrence of similar crimes in our communities to provide a safer place to live and enjoy for the Filipino people," he added.