Former Bureau of Corrections deputy for security operations Ricardo Zulueta has surfaced for the first time since authorities named him as one of the masterminds in the killings of radio commentator Percy Lapid and alleged middleman Jun Villamor.
Zulueta was seen in several photos uploaded on Facebook on Friday afternoon by Baguio-based lawyer Lauro Gacayan, ABS-CBN reported.
Wearing a white striped polo shirt, jeans, and slippers, Zulueta was sporting a buzz cut while sitting on a chair in front of Gacayan’s table. An unidentified third person was also in the frame.
In a phone call with ABS-CBN News Friday night, Gacayan confirmed his Facebook post as well as the photos he posted.
He said the photos were taken on Tuesday in his law office in Baguio City when Zulueta formally hired him as his lead counsel.
In the post, Gacayan sought to address reports that his client was already abroad, in hiding or possibly dead.
“My client is not in hiding, abroad, or already dead,” he posted.
The Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation earlier said Zulueta has gone into hiding on the same day that the murder complaints were filed against him along with suspended BuCor chief Gerald Bantag and several persons deprived of liberty from BuCor.
Zulueta is facing consolidated murder complaints for the Lapid-Villamor killings before Department of Justice prosecutors.
He was summoned to appear on November 23 and December 5, but he did not show up. Neither was he represented by a lawyer.
In the complaints, Zulueta and Bantag were identified as principals by inducement in both killings.
BuCor PDLs who are gang commanders testified that it was Zulueta who summoned them to order the killings of Lapid and Villamor, supposedly upon Bantag’s instructions.
Gacayan said authorities might have been misled to believe that Zulueta was in hiding because there is an Igorot expression “Matago Tago ka” which means “Have a long life!”—a standard greeting in Baguio City, which could be confused with the Tagalog word “magtago,” meaning to hide.
This is like the explanation Bantag previously offered in explaining he did not hide.
Gacayan also clarified to ABS-CBN News the actual location where the photos were taken.
He said in his Facebook post that they were taken in his other law office in Pennsylvania St, San Fernando, La Union, and not in Pennsylvania St., San Francisco, California.
He said he was merely joking about reports his client might have gone abroad, pointing out that on November 28, he posted two photos with Bantag on exactly the same spot—his Baguio office.
Bantag was wearing a gray long-sleeved shirt, black pants, and rubber shoes and was sitting on the exact spot where Zulueta was recently photographed.
Gacayan however told ABS-CBN News he cannot address yet the allegations against his client at this time, and his client will only grant media interviews once he is able to execute his counter-affidavit.
Zulueta allegedly sent to gang commanders a video of Lapid exposing Bantag on his radio program “Lapid Fire” in order to identify Lapid.
These gang commanders supposedly hired self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial and 3 others to kill Lapid outside his subdivision in Las Piñas on October 3.
Zulueta also allegedly ordered the killing of Villamor to cover up for Lapid’s killing.
Escorial, on October 18, identified Villamor as the alleged middleman who hired him to kill Lapid.
Villamor died a few hours later, initially thought to be due to natural causes based on an NBI autopsy but it was later revealed he was killed through suffocation through a subsequent autopsy by forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun.
Prior to his death, Villamor was allegedly able to send his sister messages divulging who was behind Lapid’s death.
No less than Lapid’s brother, veteran journalist Roy Mabasa, acknowledged the significance of Zulueta’s testimony, saying his absence creates a “vacuum” in the probe.
None of those who testified claimed they dealt with Bantag, only identifying him as “tanda” or a high-ranking BuCor official who was allegedly behind Zulueta’s instructions.
But Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla invoked the “totality test” in justifying Bantag’s inclusion in the Lapid-Villamor murder complaints.