Prisons chief suspended following death of inmate linked to broadcaster’s killing

Aie Balagtas See
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Prisons chief suspended following death of inmate linked to broadcaster’s killing Philippine Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla presents a document during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Manila, Oct. 21, 2022.
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President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordered the country’s prisons chief be suspended without pay after an inmate who allegedly brokered the contract killing of an outspoken broadcaster died while incarcerated earlier this week, the justice secretary announced Friday. 

Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag will go on leave indefinitely during an investigation into the Tuesday death of the inmate, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said. 

Remulla said he met with Marcos recently to update him on the ongoing investigation behind the Oct. 4 killing of broadcaster Percival Mabasa, better known as Percy Lapid, a critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration as well as some officials in the Marcos administration.

“I went to the president to tell him about this. What was the reaction of the president? He asked me to preventively suspend Undersecretary Director General Bantag of BuCor so there may be a fair, impartial investigation on the matter, so that doubts will be put to rest,” Remulla told reporters. “There are no sacred cows in this administration.”

While not revealing the cause of death for the inmate, Remulla identified him Crisanto Villamor, but noted he was also known as Jun Globa Villamor and Jun Garcia Villamor in jail records.

The alleged gunman, Joel Estorial, surrendered the same day Villamor died and confessed to Mabasa’s killing while identifying a conspiracy he said originated from inside the national penitentiary. 

Remulla said Bantag’s suspension would be indefinite, although a written order said the suspension without pay is to last for three months. Gregorio Catapang Jr., a former armed forces chief, has been designated as Bantag’s replacement.

Remulla said Bantag’s suspension would lead to an impartial investigation into the death of Villamor, who was serving prison terms for murder as well as for violating election gun ban laws. When asked by reporters why Villamor was not secured after Estorial surrendered, Remulla said he only found out about his death on Thursday.

He conceded there was “probably a shortcoming” by the justice department and BuCor. 

“And probably (in) the excitement of things, it was forgotten,” Remulla said.

BuCor spokesman Gabriel Chaclag said in a statement that Villamor was brought to the prison hospital after he collapsed and lost consciousness. By early Tuesday afternoon, he was declared dead.

“Initial findings showed no signs of physical external injuries which probably indicates a natural cause of death or no signs of foul play,” Chaclag said. “However, we are still awaiting the official and final autopsy result which will include a toxicology test that will be further conducted today to complete the autopsy.”

When he surrendered, Estorial, 39, said he feared for his safety after his photo was released to the public and a bounty was raised for his capture. He named two brothers in the plot to kill the broadcaster along with a third person while alleging the order came from inside the penitentiary.

The Philippines ranks among the most dangerous countries for journalists worldwide. Dozens have been killed since the dictatorship of Marcos’ late father, Ferdinand E. Marcos, more than 36 years ago.


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