Marcos orders preventive suspension of BuCor chief amid probe on Percy Lapid slay

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 21) — Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag has been preventively suspended amid the allegation that an inmate in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) was involved in the killing of journalist Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa, the Department of Justice announced on Friday.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said the instruction came from President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to ensure a fair probe into the matter.

“If you want an impartial investigation, that’s the only thing you can do here kasi nga [because] it's under his jurisdiction,” he told reporters. “That’s the way it goes naman, wala naman tayong [we have no] choice, and that's the president's instruction."

The DOJ chief said Marcos gave the directive during their dialogue on Thursday night when Remulla briefed the president about the developments in the Lapid case.

He said he informed Bantag of the decision early Friday morning.

The department order that Remulla signed states that Bantag is suspended without pay for 90 days.

This is to preclude the possibility of Bantag "exerting undue influence or pressure on the witnesses” against him, or “tampering of documentary evidence on file with [his] office,” according to the Oct. 21 letter addressed to the bureau official.

However, Remulla said during the press briefing that the suspension period is indefinite, depending on the progress and developments on the probe.

DOJ Undersecretary Mico Clavano later explained that the rules require a period to be stated, but that the length will be renewed if needed.

Former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gregorio Catapang Jr. has been designated as BuCor officer-in-charge, although he has yet to assume office, Remulla said.

He noted that he and Marcos agreed that Catapang "may be the best person to step in as OIC, given his maturity, his ability to discern, (and) his experience."

Bantag's suspension order came after Joel Escorial, the self-confessed gunman in the Lapid killing, pointed to an alleged middleman inside the NBP, which is managed by the BuCor.

On Thursday night, Remulla said the supposed middleman, identified as Crisanto Villamor, died this week inside the facility.

In the records of BuCor, however, his name was Jun Villamor. 

Authorities also earlier said there is a second alleged middleman who is currently detained at a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facility. Remulla said this facility is located in Taguig.