JUSTICE Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Wednesday said both suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag and deputy security and operations officer Ricardo Zulueta are still in the country.
“They are still in the country,” Remulla said when asked if the two officials who were recently charged with murder in connection with the killing of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa last October 3 and alleged middleman Jun Villamor.
The issuance of a precautionary hold departure order (PHDO) against the two BuCor officials is now being processed and is expected to be filed once the DOJ starts the preliminary investigation of the murder case. “It’s being processed by the DOJ now,” Remulla said.
Bantag and Zulueta have been tagged as the masterminds in the killings of Mabasa and Villamor.
They were charged as principals by inducement in the two murder cases after they allegedly tapped several gang leaders in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) to plot Mabasa’s killing and then Villamor.
In their investigation report, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Bantag had a clear motive to effect the murders.
In the case of Mabasa, the two agencies pointed to Mabasa’s continued expose of the issues against Bantag on his show “ Lapid Fire” as the motive.
For Jun Villamor, the NBI and PNP said the motive was to cover up the murder of Mabasa.
Villamor was named by self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial as the one who contracted him to kill Mabasa in the amount of P550,000.
Zulueta allegedly served as Bantag’s middleman to the NBP gang leaders involved in Mabasa and Villamor’s killing.
Remulla reiterated his call for Bantag and Zulueta to submit themselves to the legal process by submitting their counter-affidavit to answer the charges against them once the preliminary investigation starts.
“That’s the legal process They should respect the law. Enough of dramas, face it like a man,” Remulla said.
‘Cinderella man’ spin angers Bantag?
Meanwhile, Remulla disclosed new information that might help in the prosecution of the murder cases against Bantag.
Remulla was referring to the “Cinderella Man” story that Mabasa worked on that could have triggered Bantag to order the latter’s killing.
The DOJ secretary said it was narrated to him that Bantag skipped the graduation ceremony of the University of Perpetual Help for its student-inmates held last September 9 at the NBP.
“It’s very significant because all the board of trustees of the University of Perpetual Help were all there to witness the graduation. They’re all present. These are people who really are doing a great service to the national penitentiary because they’re providing college education to many of the inmates who want to do it,” Remulla pointed out.
Remulla noted that Bantag did not show up during the event because he reportedly hurriedly went back to his house in Laguna after finding out that Mabasa went to his house that day to examine and take pictures of his residence and vehicles.
“Bantag not returning there is a sign also that he was very mad, he was very livid about it,” Remulla said.
Bantag has yet to surface since the filing of charges against him and several others before the DOJ.
PNP tracker teams ready
The PNP is now readying tracker teams to arrest Bantag and Zulueta if a warrant of arrest is issued against them in connection with the killing of Mabasa and Villamor.
But for the moment, PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said they are just monitoring the whereabouts of the two suspects who allegedly ordered the killing of Mabasa over his expose on the alleged ill-gotten wealth of Bantag.
“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,” he told reporters when sought for comment on the sidelines during the blessing and turnover ceremony of the newly constructed PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group building at Camp Crame in Quezon City on Wednesday.
Bantag and Zulueta are facing two counts of murder.
With Glen Jacob Jose