Philippine police accuse prison chief of murdering popular broadcaster – The Diplomat

Percival Mabasa, aka Percy Lapid, as seen in a photo posted to his Facebook page on June 11, 2022.

Photo credit: Facebook/Percy Lapid FireAdvertisement

Philippine authorities have charged the country’s top prison officer and a staffer with murder, accusing them of orchestrating the recent murder of radio commentator Percival Mabasa.

In a joint statement read at a news conference yesterday, senior officials from the Departments of Justice and Home Affairs and the Philippine National Police announced murder charges against Gerald Bantag, chief of the Bureau of Corrections, who has been suspended from his post. They have also filed charges against prison security guard Ricardo Zulueta, who is on the run from the law, and other suspects in the murder.

On October 3, Mabasa, also known by his alias Percy Lapid, was shot dead in his car in an ambush near his home in Las Pinas City, a Metro Manila suburb.

Mabasa had many potential enemies; His show Lapid Fire frequently criticized the family and legacy of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, whose term ended in June.

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According to the statement, Bantag tapped three gang leaders jailed in the country’s largest prison to look for a gunman to kill Mabasa for a payment of 550,000 pesos ($9,300), The Associated Press reported.

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In addition to the complaint about Lapid’s death, the authorities also filed another complaint about the death of Jun Villamor, the alleged intermediary in the Lapid case. Villamor was killed by gang leaders at New Bilibid Prison as a cover up after he was publicly identified by the gunman as the inmate who arranged the killing from his prison cell.

“The investigation determined that both Director-General Gerald Bantag and DSO Ricardo Zulueta were behind the murders of Percy Lapid and Jun Villamor,” Eugene Javier, a National Bureau of Investigation investigator, said at the news conference.

The statement said Bantag had “a clear motive for committing the killings,” given that Mabasa’s Lapid Fire show had heavily criticized Bantag and other officials for alleged corruption and other wrongdoing. Justice Minister Jesus Crispin Remulla said the country’s prison system had been turned into a “criminal organization”.

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Mabasa’s killing reinforced the Philippines’ reputation as what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has described as “one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists”. An estimated 195 journalists have been killed since 1986, and RSF ranked the Philippines 147th out of 180 countries in its latest Press Freedom Index.

While many of these murders have remained unsolved, particularly those that took place in regions ruled by powerful local families, Lapid’s murder has drawn an unusual amount of public pressure, perhaps due to his prominent national profile and brazen nature of the murder.

The indictment came the same day the Philippine House of Representatives passed a resolution “strongly condemning” Lapid’s assassination and expressing “serious concern” for the safety of journalists in the country.

“Local and international journalists were outraged and deeply saddened by the assassination of Mr. Percival “Percy Lapid” C. Mabasa, and viewed this insidious act as an assault on freedom of expression and the press that must be stopped in order to save him Preserve democracy,” the resolution says.

The fact that murder charges have been filed against powerful figures is an encouraging sign that the Philippines is moving in the right direction when it comes to preventing threats and attacks on critical journalists. At the same time, a thick catalog of unsolved murders indicates that there is still a long way to go before the deterrent effect is strong enough to prevent this tragedy from repeating itself.