Court orders arrest of indicted Philippine prisons chief in reporter’s death
Manila, Apr 13 (EFE).- A Manila court has issued an arrest warrant for an ex-prisons head over the alleged killing of an inmate who acted as a middleman in the murder of a well-known radio journalist and government critic.
Besides former Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag, the court also ordered the arrest of his ex-deputy Ricardo Zulueta.
The journalist, Percival Mabasa, widely known as Percy Lapid, was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding assailants on Oct.3, 2022.
Inmate Jun Villamor was killed days later.
Villamor is accused of acting as a middleman in hiring shooter Joel Escorial, who confessed to having shot the journalist dead.
Bantag and Villamor were indicted last month for their involvement in the killings.
The broadcaster hosted a late-night radio show, “Lapid Fire,” for tens of thousands of his listeners.
The journalist was a bitter critic of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
He regularly denounced corruption cases and the abuse of power by police, army, and government officials.
The killing of the veteran broadcaster took place after he accused Bantag of accepting bribes from inmates and using the proceeds to build a mansion on the Manila outskirts and buy several luxury cars.
The case uncovered a series of abuses and irregularities at the Bilibid prison in Manila, the largest correctional facility in the Philippines and one of the most overcrowded prisons in the world.
According to investigators, prisoners were tortured and blackmailed in the facility.
Officials discovered a tunnel inside the facility that connected the prison with the outside.
Some experts believe inmates would use the tunnel to sneak out and carry out orders like the murder of Lapid.
Days after the killing of the journalist, the shooter, Escorial, surrendered to the authorities and confessed to the crime.
He claimed other inmates were involved in Lapid’s murder and that Villamor acted as the middleman.
According to Reporters Without Borders, the Philippines is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists.
Some 197 media workers have been killed since 1986, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). EFE