“BATO-BATO SA LANGIT, TAMAAN HUWAG MAGALIT”
Former President Rodrigo Duterte has no reason to silence Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said on Tuesday, shielding his former boss from any allegation of involvement in the Oct. 3 murder of the sharp-tongued radio commentator.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla also said investigators found no evidence pointing to people other than suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag and his deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta as the alleged murder masterminds.
If Duterte really wanted Mabasa killed, he should have ordered it when he was still the highest official in the land, according to Dela Rosa, the first implementer of Duterte’s brutal war on drugs as chief of the Philippine National Police.
“What will be (Duterte’s) motive? There’s none,” Dela Rosa told reporters. “Why will he be interested in killing Mabasa now that he’s already out of power? For what? He no longer has any political career. He’s already retired.”
Duterte and his drug war were among the subjects of Mabasa’s stinging criticisms on his radio program that was also livestreamed on his Facebook account and YouTube channel, which had nearly 300,000 subscribers.
Dela Rosa, who had also been accused of involvement in extrajudicial killings, urged those concerned to respect the results of the joint investigation by the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation.
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“The problem here is that many think they know better. They want to insert other things in the investigation,” he said. “You can’t dictate the PNP on how to do (its investigation) … Out of the 160 (persons of interest), they all have motives because they were criticized by (Mabasa).”
Journalist Roy Mabasa, a brother of the slain radioman-vlogger, said other suspects might still be identified as the Department of Justice (DOJ) said it was only “95 percent” complete in its murder investigation.
He said it was “possible that there may be another person behind (Bantag), knowing Bantag’s background and loyalty affiliation.”
Remulla dismissed Duterte’s possible involvement in the murder.
“That’s already political level. We’re not concerned about the politics, we’re concerned about the crimes,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Remulla, however, acknowledged that everything was possible as the investigation was still ongoing.
“But from what we have … we still don’t see anyone else,” he said.
“We just follow the money and we just follow the evidence. It’s hard to speculate,” he said, referring to a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council which confirmed deposits amounting to P550,000 into the bank account of confessed gunman Joel Escorial.
Escorial said that it was the amount paid for the hit job. He said he used the money to pay his five other alleged accomplices, including “middleman” Cristito “Jun Villamor” Palaña, a New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmate who died mysteriously a day after Escorial surrendered to the police.
Too focused on NBP
Mabasa’s brother told the Inquirer in an interview that he respected Remulla’s statement.
“If they did not find any ties (to Duterte), well and good, but for us (in the family), if they still have 5 percent that is still unearthed, let us dig it up because possibilities are possibilities and maybe we can find something more in our digging,” he said.
“They had focused too much on the prison (NBP) for what had happened, so we couldn’t see what was going on outside the perimeter of the prison,” he added.
In his attacks against the former president, Mabasa used to call Duterte “Digongyo,” a play on Duterte’s nickname and the Filipino word for the devil.
Duterte said years earlier that, “Even if you are a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.”
“The Constitution cannot help you if you defame someone,” he said in an interview with reporters in Davao City early in June 2016 before he took his oath as president.
Duterte cited the case of Jun Pala, a journalist and politician who was gunned down in Davao City in 2003. Pala also was a vocal critic of the former president when he was Davao mayor.
“I do not want to diminish his memory, but he was a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it,” Duterte said.
He said he knew who ordered Pala’s murder—someone who was hurt by the journalist’s personal attacks. The murder has not been solved.
“We politicians, we are used to that. But private citizens are different—defame them and you defame their children. They will really kill you. That’s how it is,” Duterte said.
A murder complaint was filed against Bantag and Zulueta, along with a prisoner from Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Palawan province, who was described as a trusted aide of Bantag, three NBP gang leaders, and several other inmates. Six other inmates were held responsible for the death of Palaña.
Hold departure order
Remulla told reporters that the DOJ would file a hold departure order against Bantag and Zulueta to prevent them from leaving the country.
Remulla said he hoped that Bantag and Zulueta would cooperate in the DOJ’s preliminary investigation “because flight is an indication of guilt.”
In media interviews, Bantag denied any role in the killing of Mabasa. He said he would rather die than being imprisoned for the murder.
Dela Rosa also urged Bantag to “face the music.”
“Anyway, if you are really innocent, you will be set free,” he said. “But if you really want to keep your word, then man up. Fight to the death.” INQ
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