Slain journalist’s kin welcome possible murder charges against ex-Philippine prison chief

BenarNews staff
Slain journalist’s kin welcome possible murder charges against ex-Philippine prison chief Philippine journalists and human rights activists condemn the killing of broadcaster Percival Mabasa during a rally in suburban Quezon City, Oct. 4, 2022.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The family of a slain Filipino broadcaster on Wednesday welcomed a prosecution’s court filing outlining probable cause to bring murder charges against the former prisons chief who allegedly masterminded his killing.

Percival Mabasa, known as Percy Lapid to his listeners, was gunned down on Oct. 3, 2022. He had criticized former Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag for allegedly allowing corruption to thrive within the prison system.

“The Panel of Prosecutors released its findings that we trust as honest, assuring a very good fight in court in the name of justice for the entire community of press freedom exponents in general,” the Mabasa family said in statement to BenarNews.

“Rest assured the family will never stop until the guilty are punished and segregated from the decent and law abiders.”

Bantag allegedly used inmates to carry out the crime. Officials have also accused him of ordering the killing of Cristito Villamor Palaña, an inmate who allegedly passed the order to the gunman who shot Mabasa.

Lawyers for Bantag did not immediately reply to a BenarNews request for comment, although he previously denied the allegation.

The Philippine National Police in November 2022 accused Bantag and an aide, Deputy Security Officer Ricardo Zulueta, of running a cabal of jailed gang members to carry out assassinations.

Police said that the investigation into the murder exposed what it called the “institutionalization of criminal organization within the government.”

More recently, the Panel of Prosecutors named both Bantag and Zulueta as “principal by inducement,” in a court document outlining probable cause for murder charges, according to Philippine media reports.

The document named other suspects for their direct participation and still others for their “indispensable cooperation.”

Allegations aired on radio show

Following Mabasa’s death, authorities said he was shot because he had been broadcasting details about alleged corruption linked to Bantag during his radio show on DWBL.

The suspected gunman, Joel Escorial, surrendered to police two weeks after the killing and told authorities about corruption allegedly involving Bantag. Escorial also told investigators about Palaña’s killing, which allegedly occurred on the same day that he gave himself up.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has said an investigation revealed “a very strong indication of the presence of a criminal organization” allegedly under the direction of Bantag.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordered Bantag suspended on Oct. 21 ahead of the investigation and named retired military chief Gregorio Catapang Jr. to serve as interim prisons chief.

Since then, Bantag criticized his successor’s “questionable” history and the Marcos administration’s “poor” handling of the Mabasa investigation.

Media watchdogs have condemned the killing which underscores the dangers of reporting in the Southeast Asian nation where nearly 200 journalists and press workers have been killed since 1986.

In 2009, members of a powerful political clan and their associates killed 58 people, including 32 media workers, in an execution-style attack in southern Maguindanao province.


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