Hontiveros claims mystery caller tags one ‘Gen. Bantag’ behind killing
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday disclosed audio recordings and screenshots of text messages made by an anonymous caller who tagged one “General Bantag” as having a hand in the killing of broadcaster Percival Mabasa, also known as Percy Lapid.
In a press conference, Hontiveros played the recording where the caller can be heard saying: “Involved si General Bantag sa pagkamatay nitong si Lapid. Kasali si General Bantag (General Bantag is involved in the death of Lapid. General Bantag is part of this).”
Hontiveros said she has yet to talk to suspended Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag over the recording, but said the official is part of the 160 persons of interest in the case.
The caller told Mabasa’s daughter he earlier warned Percival that he might be killed, but the latter did not believe him.
The caller can also be heard in the recording as saying that he also warned Mabasa’s brother, Roy, who is also a journalist, as well as Mabasa’s son, Mark, that their lives are also at risk.
“Noong una tinatawagan ko si Percy na mag-iingat ka dahil papatayin ka na. Ayaw niyang maniwala. Ngayon si Roy naman. Ayaw maniwala ni Roy sa akin…Maliit na halaga lang hinihingi ko kay Roy para lang isend ko sa kanya ang ‘Ocho Boys’ ni General Bantag (Before, I called Percy and told him to be careful because he will be killed. He did not want to believe me. Now it is Roy. Roy does not want to believe me…I am only asking for a small amount for me to send to Roy the ‘Ocho Boy’s of General Bantag),” the caller said.
Hontiveros said the calls and text messages happened between Oct. 22 to Oct. 24.
The Mabasa family has already coordinated the anonymous call with the Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights, Roy told Manila Standard.
Asked whether authorities are looking into Bantag’s alleged involvement, Roy said: “There are things that are happening as we speak but I am not at liberty to say yet…We also have to unmask the sender of the text.”
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said authorities now have at least eight “persons of interest” in connection with Mabasa’s murder.
But Remula said he is not discounting the possibility that the numbers may go up to 10 persons.
Asked if government investigators have established the mastermind in the killing, Remulla said: “We cannot conclude yet. Unless we are conclusive, I’d rather not speculate.”
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., for his part, said he is not convinced the alleged middleman in the murder case died of natural causes.
“There’s no poison or medicine that was given to the said dead middleman. But I’m still not satisfied that it’s natural causes. I told them to investigate further because there are ways to kill a person that do not show up in the medico legal,” Mr. Marcos said.
“The investigation continues, and more importantly, is to really trace who gave the order to the shooter to kill Lapid and why. That is what we are working on now,” the President said.
The alleged middleman, Jun Villamor, died inside the New Bilibid Prison on the same day that Joel Escorial confessed to killing Mabasa.
The NBP is under the Bureau of Corrections that Bantag previously headed.
A second sister Villamor is now under the witness protection program of the DOJ, Remulla said on Wednesday.
This after the first sister, alias “Marisa,” surfaced in Manila and disclosed that her brother Jun sent her a message at 11:59 in the morning on October 18, hours before he died.
“On Oct. 18, he suddenly texted me, ‘Ate, whatever happens to me, take care of this secret. If I die, reveal it. But as long as I am alive, don’t. When I go, tell Joel that it was ordered by 3 commanders here, Sputnik, Happy Go Lucky and BCJ. The order came from the office,’” she told ABS-CBN News in Filipino.
Asked what her brother meant when he texted “from the office,” Marisa said: “There in Bilibid.”
Bantag was the subject of Mabasa’s commentary in his “Lapid Fire” program aired on dwBL and livestreamed on his Facebook and YouTube accounts where the broadcaster said the BuCor official was building a mansion in an exclusive subdivision in Laguna province, with several vehicles parked outside.
Bantag, in an interview on Dobol B TV but before the press conference of Hontiveros, said he is open to undergo a lifestyle check if asked of him after he was tagged as a person of interest in the case.
“Even though my name was not mentioned, I know he was talking about me…The vehicles that were parked there were not all mine. I said six of those are owned by BuCor. Of course, I owned some and some of those vehicles were owned by my neighbors,” he said.
He again blamed “powerful drug lords and syndicates” after he was linked to the murder case.
“What did our former president say? Narco-politics. We are nearing a narco-politics (state),” Bantag said.
He, however, has yet to comment on the audio recordings disclosed by the Mabasa family through Hontiveros.
Remulla, for his part, said of the eight persons of interest now in custody of authorities, four are from the NBP who were secured by the National Bureau of Investigation and three are with the Philippine National Police. The eighth person of interest is in another facility and will soon be transferred to the NBI.
Meanwhile, forensic expert Dr. Raquel Fortun has already finished conducting the second autopsy on the remains of the first middleman, Remulla said.
“She will come up with a written report by Friday. Just give her time to prepare for the results of the autopsy. We can be able to discern from that,” he added.
Remulla said the testimony of “Marisa” was also “very important because she was a recipient of a text message which is a form of a dying declaration.”
“He was conscious that he was in danger at the time he texted (his sister) around two hours before he was declared dead. This is very, very important,” Remulla said.