JUSTICE Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has ruled out the possibility of the involvement of other masterminds in the killing of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa last October 3, aside from suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director-General Gerald Bantag.
In an interview with reporters, Remulla said evidence and the money trail that authorities have gathered so far would point to Bantag, his deputy security and operations officer (DSO) Ricardo Zulueta and several persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) were involved in Lapid’s killing.
“None, we don’t see [other possible masterminds],” Remulla said. Remulla made the statement even as Lapid’s brother Roy Mabasa said that while they are glad on the filing of the case against Bantag and several others, the family remains unconvinced that the mastermind behind the murder stops with the suspended BuCor chief.
Mabasa even noted Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has said that the case is still only 95 percent solved and that investigators are still working on the remaining 5 percent.
“We are not convinced as of now that this case stops with Bantag. It is our hope that the investigation will continue until the real mastermind is unmasked,” Mabasa said.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) also said it is not discounting the possibility that there could be a more powerful or influential mastermind behind Lapid’s killing.
NBI supervising agent lawyer Eugene Javier made the remarks a day after the NBI and the Philippine National Police jointly filed murder charges against Bantag, Zulueta and several PDLs for their alleged involvement in the killing of Lapid and Bilibid inmate Jun Villamor, the alleged middleman in the case, before the Department of Justice.
Javier said they have received intelligence information about another supposed mastermind in Lapid’s killing other than Bantag.
But Javier admitted that the information has yet to be verified.
“We are not discounting the possibility that aside from Director General Bantag, there could be someone else who would be implicated in this case,” Javier said in a television interview.
“We have to understand that Director General Bantag has the rank of undersecretary as BuCor chief. It is only logical na mas mataas pa sa kanya [that there is someone with a higher rank than him]. Then he should be very powerful,” he added.
Reacting to Javier’s statement, Remulla said: “Let’s see. What I can say to you is everything is possible but from what we have it starts there, we don’t see other [masterminds]. We just follow the money [trail] and we just follow the evidence. It’s difficult to speculate,” Remulla explained.
“When you enter the realm of speculation, we’re not doing the country a favor. Let’s just stay true to ourselves,” he added.
Remulla also dismissed insinuations that former President Rodrigo Duterte should be considered as one of the persons of interest in the Lapid murder case since the latter was also critical of the former.
“None. That’s too far-fetched, This is different. We are talking about following the money [trail] and the conversations. We cannot bring it to that level. That is political. That is already the political level. We are not concerned about politics. We’re concerned about the crimes,” he pointed out.
The DOJ chief said Bantag had a clear motive to kill Lapid due to the latter’s continued exposure of his activities in his radio program “Lapid Fire.”
As to Villamor, he said he was killed to cover up Lapid’s murder.
Earlier, Remulla called on Bantag and Zulueta to surrender and face the charges, saying they will be accorded due process and fair hearing to defend themselves.
But he admitted that Zulueta had gone into hiding four or five days ago.
“I was hoping I could point to other groups, the drug lords, and not Bantag but what came out of the facts,” he pointed out.
Remulla, however, noted that the case is only 95 percent as they are still waiting for the report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council to trace the money trail in the case.
The AMLC earlier confirmed that the bank account of self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial received P550,000, the same amount allegedly offered to kill Lapid.
“We are waiting for the AMLC report that’s why we are at 95 percent in the case. We are still completing all the evidence since there are other names coming out in connection with the money. We always follow the money when there is a criminal enterprise. We have suspects there already,” he said.
“With the filing of these cases, the AMLC is now free to investigate because the cases are there already,” he added.
Remulla said it is the affidavits of the witnesses pointing to the commission of a crime and to Bantag as the alleged mastermind.
“Let us look at the facts. Let us not look at the speculations of people,” he stressed.
“We have no biases here. We are not here to oppress anybody. We are here to find out the truth. That’s our job,” the justice chief added.
Remulla also said they have yet to finalize the team of prosecutors who will handle the case but said he hopes it will be done before Friday when he leaves for Geneva, Switzerland, to attend another human rights conference.
The justice chief said the prosecutors are preparing for the filing of a motion before the court for the issuance of a hold departure order (HDO) against Bantag and Zulueta.
Bantag previously denied involvement in Lapid’s murder, saying he has nothing to gain from it.
He declared he would rather die than be jailed for a crime he did not commit.