Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Tuesday said he is leaving it up to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. whether or not to dismiss Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Executive Director Gerald Bantag.
Remulla stressed that his October 21 order that placed Bantag under preventive suspension was on orders of President Marcos.
“I will see the President very soon and I will ask him his decision about this matter,” Remulla said, in an interview with CNN Philippines.
However, he clarified that he will not make any recommendations. “He (the President) can discern very well what the problem is,” he said.
Apart from the two murder complaints for the deaths of radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and inmate Cristito Villamor Palana, the alleged middleman in the slaying of the broadcaster, several investigations are ongoing or will be conducted at BuCor under the leadership of Bantag.
These investigations include the joint venture agreement (JVA) signed by Bantag with a private real estate developer for the turnover of the NBP compound in Muntinlupa City in exchange for a piece of land in Nueva Ecija where NBP would be transferred and the 35-percent NBP earnings from the development of NBP, the excavation at NBP, and the entry of various prohibited items like beers, two-way radios, cellular telephones, and deadly weapons inside NBP.
Bantag also reportedly signed a memorandum of agreement with a savings bank for the grant of loans to BuCor personnel at “hefty interest rates.”
He said he has asked BuCor Officer-in-Charge Gregorio Pio P. Catapang Jr. to write a letter to the DOJ “so we can examine the contract that was arrived at with the bank.”
Remulla assured Bantag that he will be given sufficient time to file his counter-affidavit on the two murder complaints.
Roy Mabasa, the brother of the slain journalist, meanwhile said the continued absence of former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta is “a cause for concern.”
Mabasa expressed this sentiment, a day before the DOJ is set to begin the consolidated probe on the killings of Lapid and alleged middleman Jun Villamor.
In an ABS-CBN News report, Mabasa said “that is a very big concern not just for me, but the public because the people expect that the truth will come out regarding the statements of gang leaders mentioning the names of Mr. Zulueta and Mr. Bantag.”
Zulueta, along with suspended Bantag, are tagged as masterminds in the 2 killings. Remulla earlier said “I just hope that Zulueta still appears to face charges because he is a co-conspirator and his role is very important.” Remulla admitted hearing rumors that Zulueta might already be dead.
If the panel of prosecutors find there is probable cause to charge Bantag in court for the twin murders, Remulla advised him against not surrendering to the authorities.
“He will become a fugitive from law. And flight is an indication of guilt. The more guilty he will appear if he does not show up,” Remulla said.
Earlier, Bantag said he will not surrender if an arrest order is issued against him as long as Remulla is still the secretary of justice as he expressed fears that the case against him might be manipulated.
“The Department of Justice’s role is to prosecute. It is an executive function. So, I don’t see where luto (manipulation) is because the judge would be the one to determine whether or not the case presented is valid or not,” Remulla stressed.