Bangkok, June 22, 2023—In response to Philippine Department of Justice spokesperson Mico Clavano’s statements on Tuesday, June 20, that arresting Gerald Bantag, a suspect in the killing of journalist Percival Mabasa, was “a little bit tricky” because Bantag had “certain networks with the police,” the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:
“Philippine police should leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of suspects Gerald Bantag and Ricardo Zulueta, who stand accused of involvement in the murder of journalist Percival Mabasa,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “If the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration is serious about ending impunity in media killings, it should prioritize securing these arrests. A suspect’s connections to law enforcement should not be allowed to hinder the swift pursuit of justice.”
Mabasa, better known as Percy Lapid and host of the “Lapid Fire” program on local DWBL radio, was gunned down on October 3, 2022, by motorcycle-riding assailants in Las Piñas City. The suspected gunman, Joel Estorial, surrendered to police on October 18.
On November 7, 2022, police alleged that Bantag, chief of the Bureau of Corrections, and Zulueta, a prison security official, ordered the killing in response to Mabasa’s coverage of corruption allegations against Bantag. Bantag and Zulueta have denied the charges, and Bantag claims an imprisoned drug lord set them up.
Bantag and Zulueta went into hiding in March 2023 and remain free despite arrest warrants, according to the journalist’s brother Roy Mabasa, who communicated with CPJ via email. A second preliminary hearing in Mabasa’s case is scheduled for June 23 in Manila.
CPJ’s email to the Department of Justice did not immediately receive a response. CPJ could not find contact information for Bantag, Zulueta, or their legal representatives.
The Philippines ranked seventh on CPJ’s most recent Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free. The new administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has seen less overt antagonism toward the media than his predecessor, but journalists continue to await substantive actions to improve the safety of the press in the country.