DOJ indicts Bantag, several others for murder of Lapid and inmate Jun Villamor

File photo: Former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Chief Gerald Bantag attends the preliminary investigation on the Percy Lapid case at the Department of Justice building on Padre Faura, Manila on December 5, 2022.

A FIVE-MAN panel of prosecutors of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has found probable cause to indict former Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag and several others for two counts of murder in connection with the ambush-slay of veteran radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa last October and the killing of alleged middleman identified as inmate Jun Villamor.      

Aside from Bantag, also indicted as principal by inducement in Lapid’s killing was BuCor deputy security and operations officer Ricardo Zulueta.        On the other hand, self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial and his accomplices-brothers Israel and Edmund Dimaculangan were indicted as principal by direct participation.         

Christopher Bacoto, another alleged middleman in Lapid’s killing,  along with inmates at the New Bilibid Prisons identified as  Denver Mayores, Alvin Labra, Aldrin Galicia and Alfie Penaredonda were indicted as principal by indispensable cooperation.        

 Indicted for the murder of Villamor were Bantag, Zulueta, Labra and Galicia as principal by inducement while inmates Mario Alvarez, Joseph Georfo, Christian Ramac, Ricky Salgado, Ronnie dela Cruz, and Joel Reyes as principal by direct participation.        

The panel said it was established during the preliminary investigation of the case that the murders of Mabasa and Villamor were attended by conspiracy among the respondents.     

“The plan of the respondents to kill them both, including its execution, was shown by the evidence for the complainants,” the DOJ said.     

The panel gave weight to the statements of the inmates implicating Bantag and Zulueta as the ones who ordered the killing of Lapid and Villamor.    

“On the part of respondent Bantag, sufficient circumstantial evidence have been presented to establish that he masterminded the assasination of Percival,” the DOJ noted   

 The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) earlier said Bantag had a clear motive to effect the murders.           

In the case of Lapid, the two agencies  pointed to the radio commentator’s continued exposé of the issues against Bantag on his show “Lapid Fire” as the motive.          

 For Villamor’s death, authorities said the motive was to cover up the murder of Percy Lapid.         

 “Further, the motive of the murder was also sufficiently described – the two videos uploaded by Percival about respondent Bantag and showing the latter’s house with a number of vehicles parked in front. 

The prosecution notes that the timing of the uploaded videos and the commencement of the planning of Percival’s assassination is not coincidental,” the DOJ press briefer said.    

In the case of Zulueta, the DOJ said the statements of inmates clearly showed his participation in the killing of Lapid.    

“His call to respondent Mayores, who he admitted to be a trustee and a kumpare, to look for a killer or hitman started the elaborate planning to assassinate Percy,” the DOJ explained.     

Furthermore, the DOJ said it was Zulueta who provided the amount of P350,000 as additional payment to Lapid’s hitman and communicated to Labra that Bantag was thanking them for the assasination. 

The resolution was signed by Deputy State Prosecutors Olivia Laroza-Torrevillas and  Christopher Garvida, Senior Assistant State Prosecutors Charlie Guhit and Lincoln Asencion and Assistant State Prosecutor Eric Opriasa.         

Prosecutor General Benidcto Malcontento approved the panel’s resolution.     The two informations for murder will be filed before the Regional Trial Courts of Las Piñas City and Muntinlupa City having jurisdiction over the offenses where the separate incidents of the killing of Mabasa and Villamor happened, respectively.   

 Meanwhile, the Mabasa family immediately welcomed the DOJ resolution ordering the prosecution of Bantag and several others for Lapid’s killing.        

“We have been expecting that for several months already and we are happy that there is already a resolution and hopefully the wheels of justice will already start to turn,” Pelagio     said.         

Bantag, who has denied the accusations against him, has insisted that it is the Ombudsman and not the  DOJ  which has jurisdiction over the murder cases filed against him. under Article 11, Section 13, paragraph 1 of the Constitution.            

 Bantag also accused the DOJ of being biased against him, citing Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla’s pronouncements accusing him as the one who ordered the killing of Mabasa and Villamor.         

He also stressed that the DOJ should keep its hands off from the case in light of the murder charges he  filed  before the Ombudsman against Remulla and BuCor office-in-charge Gregorio Catapang Jr. also in connection with the  two killings.        

Bantag  raised the possibility of conflicting decisions by the DOJ and the Ombudsman  if the cases are not consolidated.     

 In response to the DOJ resolution, Bantag’s lawyer Rocky Balisong said they would be filing the necessary pleading after they have received and reviewed the resolution.         

Aside from the murder charges, Bantag are also facing other charges filed against him after being relieved from the BuCor which include plunder, alleged torture of BuCor personnel and inmates.           

Image credits: PNA/Yancy Lim


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