On the night of October 3, 2022, Philippine radio commentator Percival Mabasa–better known as Percy Lapid–was gunned down inside his vehicle by unidentified motorcycle-riding assailants in Las Piñas City, according to the national police and news reports.
He was on his way to work at the time, his brother Roy Mabasa said on Facebook.
Mabasa, host of the “Lapid Fire” program on the DWBL 1242 radio station, had been a prominent critic of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte in his commentaries and YouTube broadcasts, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
On October 18, Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said that a suspect named Joel Estorial had surrendered to police, confessed to Mabasa’s murder, and handed over a gun that he claimed was the murder weapon, news reports said. Abalos said the gun matched bullets collected as evidence at the crime scene, the reports said.
Estorial was presented by police at an October 18 news conference wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet, news reports said. He told reporters that he and three other assailants—Edmon and Israel Dimaculangan, who were on the run, and another known only as Orly or Orlando, who operates out of New Bilibid Prison—were involved in the murder.
The Philippine Department of Justice formally charged all three men in connection with the crime, a report said. At the time, Estorial did not cite a motive or identify the mastermind behind the murder plot, claiming that he would have been killed if he did not carry out the attack.
CPJ emailed the Department of Justice’s Senior Assistant Provincial Prosecutor and Officer in Charge Assistant Secretary Gabriel Lorenzo L. Ignacio to request contact information for the lawyers of Estorial, the Dimaculangans, and Orlando but did not receive any reply.
On November 7, police alleged that Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag and prison security official Ricardo Zulueta ordered Mabasa’s murder, multiple news reports said.
Eugene Javier of the National Bureau of Investigation alleged that Bantag ordered the killing in response to Mabasa’s coverage of allegations of corruption against Bantag on his late-night radio show, according to those reports.
Javier said investigators had discovered “a criminal organization” operating within the bureau of prisons. Criminal complaints were filed against 10 inmates for the killing, the reports said.
Bantag and Zulueta have denied the charges, and Bantag claims they were set up by an imprisoned drug lord, according to news reports. As of December 7, both men had been suspended from their jobs but not arrested, and authorities had issued an order for immigration authorities to be on alert in case they attempted to leave the country, those reports said.
In a joint statement, representatives from the police, Justice Department, and Interior Department said that three gang leaders held in the Philippines’ largest prison, which was under Bantag’s control, were ordered to find a gunman to kill Lapid for 550,000 pesos ($9,400), Al Jazeera reported.
The reports said Bantag and Zulueta have also been accused of ordering the killing of Cristito Villamor Palana, a prisoner who allegedly assisted in planning the attack. Palana was suffocated to death with a plastic bag by members of his own gang, Javier said in those news reports.
A report by local media outlet Inquirer.net quoted Hubert Guevara, the government’s senior deputy executive secretary, as saying that Marcos Jr. was “concerned” over the killing and has instructed officials to “take a look” at the conduct of the investigation.
CPJ emailed the Bureau of Corrections and Marcos Jr.’s office for comment, but did not receive any replies.