SUSPENDED Bureau of Corrections Chief Gerald Bantag is nowhere to be found, even when his fellow Cordillerans held a hastily-called rally at the Melvin Jones Grandstand in solidarity with him.
But on Friday afternoon, he finally surfaced online, talking to the quasi-TV news program, Sonshine Media News International, to clear his name but more to cast mud on Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.
Bantag asked Remulla to step down as justice secretary because he said that Remulla is part of a group conniving to pin him as the mastermind in the killing of famous broadcaster Percy Lapid.
Bantag said that Remulla is trying to clear himself so he can run for higher office in 2025.
“Sinungaling ka, SOJ (secretary of justice). Mag-step down ka. Yan ang challenge ko… Bakit? Dahil sa anak mo. Nasaan na? i-presscon mo rin (You are a liar, secretary of justice. Step down, that’s my challenge… Why? Because of your son. You should also hold a presscon for that.),” he said.
He also said that his fellow Cordillerans knew that the elder Remulla had been using marijuana in the past.
Bantag denied that he was very angry with Lapid for showing his alleged mansion in an exclusive subdivision and his fleet of expensive cars.
He said that he even forwarded Lapid’s broadcast to Remulla, asking for his advice on what to do with Lapid.
“Kita niyo ‘yung video na sinasabi ‘Yun ang dahilan daw ng pagkamatay. Nakakatawa. Bakit ko papatayin ‘yung tao dahil lang doon sa walang kwentang hindi naman sa akin. (The release of the video in question is allegedly the reason why he was killed. It’s funny, why would I kill a person just because of that trivial thing that doesn’t even belong to me?),” Bantag said.
But the Philippine National Police has already set up a manhunt for Bantag and his deputy Ricardo Zulueta, claiming that the fact that they are nowhere to be found shows their guilt.
“In the event that a warrant of arrest is issued, there will definitely be tracker teams to look for them. So for now, we are just monitoring. We are just validating information where they are,” PNP Chief Gen, Rodolfo Azurin Jr said.
Both Bantag and Zulueta are facing two counts of murder charges.
DOJ also formed a three-member panel of prosecutors for the preliminary investigation of the murder complaints filed against suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director-General Gerald Bantag and several others implicated in the killing of Lapid and Cristito Villamor Palaña, the alleged middleman in the Mabasa slay.
The two complaints will be consolidated, with the first filed by the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police last October 18 against self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial and his three alleged accomplices, brothers Edmon and Israel Dimaculangan, and a person identified only as Orly or Orlando. The three are still at large.
Secretary Remulla said that Bantag is still in the Philippines.
Remulla called on Bantag to file his counter affidavit as he believes that he is still in the Philippines. “I would say so because remember they’re government officials,” Remulla told reporters when asked if Bantag is still in the country. “Hindi ka puwedeng umalis ng Pilipinas kapag wala kang (You cannot leave the Philippines without) travel authority. Unless they secured passports that did not reflect their true professions,” he added.
He also called on Bantag to file his counter affidavit and discouraged him from responding to the allegations through the press.
“Sana sumagot sila ng counter affidavit. Huwag sila sa media sasagot. Mag-counter affidavit sila. ‘Yan ang proseso ng batas natin e. Igalang nila ang batas. Alagad sila ng batas tapos ganyan sila magsalita, ‘di ba? (I hope they would answer in a counter affidavit. They should not give their side through the media. That’s the process of our law. They should respect the law. They are servants of the law and then they respond that way?),” he said.
“Walang drama-drama (No drama). Face it like a man. Kung ‘di ka lalaki (If you are not a man), if you cannot face it, then what are you? Face it. Ang dami-daming drama. (Too much drama),” Remula added.
But the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) admitted there is no direct evidence linking suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief, Gerald Bantag, to the killing of radio broadcaster Percy Lapid.
“Technically speaking wala naman (there is no) direct evidence linking, but we’re also using the concept kasi of totality of circumstances,” said Atty. Eugene Javier of the NBI.
“In this test, decisions are made on all available information so it doesn’t mean that there has to be one direct connection to something. It could be understood that we focus on all the other circumstances of a particular case rather than any one factor,” Javier added.
The NBI official noted that Denver Mayores, the inmate from Iwahig Prison in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, indirectly implicated Bantag as the mastermind behind the killing but directly implicated Zulueta.
Javier also clarified that Mayores is the trusted aide of Zulueta, as opposed to being an aide of Bantag as presented on Monday.
In the NBI’s investigation, Javier said Mayores recalled instances when Zulueta said “Utos ito sa taas (This is an order from high up)” and “Magagalit na yung itaas, magagalit na si Tanda (The higher-up will get mad, ‘Tanda’ will get mad),” which would only mean the order came from Bantag.
“Tanda” is what the inmates call Bantag, Javier noted.
Suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag is not old enough to be called “Tanda,” one of the alleged masterminds in the murder of hard-hitting radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa, according to detained former Sen. Leila de Lima.
De Lima said in a statement from her Camp Crame cell on Wednesday that the 54-year-old corrections official was “not yet that old” to be called Tanda.
“They should pursue the identity of the person known only as ‘Tanda,’” she said. “‘Tanda’ cannot be ‘Bantag’ himself.”
The former senator said the real Tanda could be former President Duterte whom she “always suspected” to have assigned Bantag to head the BuCor to “watch over” the NBP convicts who had testified against her.
Less than a thousand Cordillerans played gongs and talked in support of Bantag at Melvin Jones last Saturday.
One of them was Baguio Mayor Benjie Magalong who said that Bantag should not be automatically seen as the mastermind.
“This is not the right time for us to be accusing anyone,” said Magalong.“I know Gerald – so much is ailing his heart because of these accusations, especially when those charges are not true,” he added.
Magalong later clarified reports that he is supporting Bantag and said that these reports took his speaking in the event in the wrong context.
He just said that these accusations are not helping in the case.
Lawyer Rocky Thomas Balisong, who was the convenor of the event, is now apparently Bantag’s lawyer.
Balisong said that Bantag is not hiding and that his client will come out in due time to refute charges against him in connection with the murder of Lapid last October 3.
“Wala pa naman siyang warrant of arrest. He is not in hiding, sa totoo lang,” Balisong said in a chance interview at the Department of Justice (DOJ) main office in Manila.
“Hindi naman kailangan kasi ‘yung pag-file ng kaso accusation pa lang ‘yan. Accusation is not synonymous with guilt. Kaya ang sinasabi ko noon, he’s not under obligation to show himself in public,” he pointed out.
Balisong went to the DOJ to secure copies of complaints that have been filed against Bantag.