PNP prepares tracker teams vs Bantag, Zulueta

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is prepared to create tracker teams to locate suspended prisons chief Gerald Bantag and his deputy Ricardo Zulueta if they would go into hiding in case a warrant of arrest is issued against them in connection with the killing of broadcast journalist Percival Mabasa and alleged middleman Jun Villamor.

But for now, PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin, Jr. said they are just monitoring the whereabouts of the two former officials of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) who were charged as principals in the killing of Mabasa, who was allegedly killed over his expose on the alleged ill-gotten wealth of Bantag; and Villamor, who was allegedly suffocated to death by his fellow gang members at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) as part of the cover-up.

"In the event that a warrant of arrest is issued, there will definitely be tracker teams to look for them. So far now, we are just monitoring. We are just validating information where they are," said Azurin.

Bantag and Zulueta are facing two counts of murder.

Azurin said they will also conduct a hunt against the three other suspects in the killing of Mabasa who remain at large, Israel and Edmon Dimaculangan and a certain Orlando.

"Since the case has been filed, we have yet to wait for the determination of prima facie evidence by the Prosecutor's Office," said Azurin.

The PNP leadership has earlier offered security for Bantag after learning that his security details and his service vehicles were recalled.

Azurin said he already instructed the PNP's Police Security and Protection Group (PSPG) to prepare in the event that Bantag would need police protection.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla and Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos earlier called on Bantag and Zulueta to surrender.

Remulla said Zulueta is already nowhere to be found and was assumed to have started to hide.

"The PNP is very willing to provide security for Bantag. But so far, there is no response from him (Bantag)," said Azurin.

"As to Zulueta, efforts to locate him are still being undertaken by the NBI as well as the PNP," he added.

In offering security for both Bantag and Zulueta, the Chief PNP said they are concerned of their security: "We also wanted their safety so that they can face the charges that was filed against them so that we would really know who are the persons responsible in the killing of Percy Lapid as well as Jun Villamor."

He explained that the offer for security is not custodial as the PNP has still no grounds to hold them, unless there is court order.

Azurin said the two can even choose the policemen who would secure them.