Percival Mabasa

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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).

Among his most recent commentaries, Mabasa had criticized alleged government corruption and attempts to rewrite the history of the martial law during the 20-year rule of Marcos Jr.’s late father–a brutal era in the Philippines’ history that ended with a popular uprising in 1986 that overthrew the elder Marcos–according to the NUJP and a New York Times report.

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 are 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 has formally charged all three men in connection with the crime, a report said. 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 / OIC Assistant Secretary Gabriel Lorenzo L. Ignacio to request contact information for the lawyers of Estorial, the Dimaculangans, and Orlando but did not immediately receive a reply.

The Presidential Task Force for Media Security, a government body composed of law enforcement agencies including the national police, said in a statement on its Facebook page that it would presume Mabasa’s killing to be “work related” while investigating, though it was too early to establish the exact motive.

The task force responded to CPJ’s emailed request for comment by forwarding links to three state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) reports related to the case, without further comment.

Abalos earlier released a blurred image of a suspect in the killing and offered a 1.5 million peso ($25,500) reward for information on the case at an October 7 press briefing at National Capital Region Police Office headquarters at Camp Bagong Diwa, according to one of the PNA reports.

Police had obtained CCTV footage showing the suspected gunman in front of the Las Piñas City Hall minutes before the shooting, said Colonel Restituto Arcangel, commander of the special investigation task force on the case, at the same press briefing, according to the PNA report. Arcangel said the motorcycle-driving accomplice’s image was captured on the dashboard camera in Lapid’s car.

The PNA report quoted Southern Police District Director Colonel Kirby John Kraft as saying at the same October 7 press briefing that the motive for the crime was still under investigation and that Lapid’s journalism and personal grudges were being considered as possible motivations.

A report by local media outlet Inquirer.net quoted Hubert Guevara, the government’s senior deputy executive secretary, as saying that Marcos Jr. is “concerned” over the killing and has instructed officials to “take a look” at the conduct of the investigation.

CPJ emailed Marcos Jr.’s office for comment but did not receive an immediate reply.