COVER STORY

TIMELINE: The Percy Lapid slay case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Calls for justice mount over the murder of veteran radio broadcaster Percival "Percy Lapid" Mabasa, the second journalist killed during the Marcos administration.

CNN Philippines gives a rundown of the events surrounding his case.

October 3: Day of murder

Lapid, 63, was gunned down inside his vehicle by unidentified motorcycle-riding assailants at the gate of a subdivision along Aria St., Barangay Talon Dos in Las Piñas City on Monday evening.

October 4: Probes launched

Lawmakers and various groups denounced Lapid's killing. The Philippine National Police (PNP) announced that it has created a special investigation task force to look into the shooting, while the Commission on Human Rights started its separate motu proprio investigation.

October 5: Reward money offered

Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. personally offered a ₱500,000 reward for information on Lapid's killers after visiting his wake. He assured the public that the government is "trying [its] best" to solve the case.

October 7: CCTV footage of suspected gunman released

The reward money has tripled to ₱1.5 million after Abalos announced that lawyer Alex Lopez offered to give ₱1 million to help catch those responsible for the fatal shooting.

The National Capital Region Police Office also released a CCTV footage of the suspected gunman walking along the street near the scene of the crime. Abalos urged the man to surrender, saying he might be safer in the hands of the police.

October 9: Lapid laid to rest, higher bounty on killers

Lapid was laid to rest at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City. Roy Mabasa, the brother of the slain commentator, said he would not allow his death to remain just a part of criminal statistics.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives separately offered a ₱5-million reward for information on Lapid's killing, raising the total bounty to ₱6.5 million.

October 18: Gunman faces the media, "middleman" dies, murder complaint filed

A man named Joel Escorial, wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet, surfaced before the media and publicly claimed on live television that he was Lapid's shooter.

Escorial's alleged accomplices remain at-large. They were Edmon Dimaculangan, Israel Dimaculangan, and a certain "Orly" or "Orlando" whose real or full name has yet to be ascertained.

Escorial said he got ₱140,000 out of the promised ₱550,000 to the group to do the dirty work. The kill order came from the New Bilibid Prison, he also said.

The Southern Police District filed a murder complaint against the four, with Mabasa as the representative complainant.

Hours later, Escorial met with Roy Mabasa and authorities, as he did a walkthrough on the crime scene.

Also on this day, Bilibid inmate Jun Villamor, the alleged middleman in the plot to kill Lapid, died at the prison hospital. However, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla announced his death two days after.

October 19: Brother affirms murder complaint

Mabasa personally affirmed at the Department of Justice his complaint-affidavit against the four suspects.

October 20: Another middleman tagged

Remulla announced the death of Villamor, the first middleman.

Southern Police District director Brig. Gen. Kirby John Kraft said there is another supposed middleman involved in the murder, who is inside a jail facility of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). He was later identified as Christopher Bacoto.

October 21: BuCor chief suspended

Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag has been placed under preventive suspension following the death of Villamor.

Remulla said the instruction came from President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. to ensure a fair probe on the matter.

Former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gregorio Catapang Jr. is designated as BuCor officer-in-charge.

Meanwhile, the BuCor's health service reported that based on initial findings, there were no signs of physical injuries on Villamor.

October 22: NBI claims no signs of foul play

The National Bureau of Investigation also told the media that based on its autopsy, there were no signs of foul play, adding that Villamor had a hemorrhage in the heart.

The bureau said it expects the results of the toxicology and pathology reports within one to two weeks.

October 24: BuCor chief among "persons of interest"

PNP chief Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said Bantag is among around 160 "persons of interest" in the killing of Lapid.

He said politicians, members of the military, and police officers were also part of the list, based on a review of Lapid's news commentaries since 2021.

Azurin adds that he personally thinks the timing of Villamor's death is "questionable" and that foul play still shouldn't be ruled out.

Meanwhile, an exclusive ABS-CBN News report found that Villamor's sister, alias "Marisa," knows a few more names mentioned by her brother who were also supposedly linked to the murder. They were three "commanders" who go by the aliases "Sputnik," "Happy Go Lucky," and "BCJ."

In the report, Villamor's message to Marisa stated that the command to kill came from the "office." Marisa said the area being referred to was in Bilibid.

The sister has been placed under the government's witness protection program and taken under the custody of the Department of Justice.

October 25: Second autopsy

Top forensic expert Dr. Raquel Fortun performed a second and independent autopsy on the body of Villamor. Results have yet to be released.

October 26: At least eight in custody

At least eight persons tagged in the Percy Lapid slay case are now all secured under the custody of authorities, Remulla said.

He claimed that this includes Marisa, Villamor's cousin Jose, and Bacoto, the other alleged middleman.

Escorial's three accomplices are still at large, and authorities are exhausting all leads to look for the mastermind. The cellphone used by Villamor, which could potentially confirm the messages sent to Marisa, remains missing.

Remulla said, however, that he had advised BuCor OIC Catapang to procure K9 units to help address the perennial problem of Bilibid inmates having access to cellphones.

October 27: Middleman's death another murder case?

Remulla said the Justice department continues to look at all possible angles surrounding the Lapid killing, including the possibility that Villamor was also murdered.

The NBI and the PNP have also launched a joint probe into Villamor’s death.

Meanwhile, the police have secured screenshots of messages and audio recordings of phone calls threatening Lapid's family, as forwarded by Sen. Risa Hontiveros. She has been seeking government protection for the family, revealing alleged death threats from an unidentified man who claims to have information on the broadcaster's death.

October 28: Cases to be filed soon

Remulla said he is hoping to file cases related to the killing of Lapid by the first week of November. He noted investigators are making “a lot of progress.”

October 29: Results of second autopsy on Villamor revealed

The re-autopsy on the body of Villamor conducted by Fortun found that the middleman has a history of asphyxia and that he died from “plastic bag suffocation.”

“Based on available information regarding the circumstances surrounding death, the manner is homicide,” she added.

Other findings Fortun listed include pulmonary congestion, edema or swelling, and hemorrhages.

November 2: Fortun ready to defend findings; Possible mastermind identified

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ The Source, Fortun said she is ready to defend her findings following the autopsy she conducted on the body of the alleged middleman.

She also admitted she was initially prepared to say the manner of death was “undetermined” since she had no information about the circumstances.

However, this changed to probable homicide after she was told that Villamor was able to send a text message to his sister expressing fear for his life, then homicide following the second autopsy, Fortun said.

The expert said she is ready to conduct another test, specifically toxicology, to confirm that Villamor was not poisoned.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ Politics As Usual, Danilo Pelagio, legal counsel of Mabasa, said they have identified three gang leaders who are possibly behind the killing. He added they are also considering Bantag as the possible brains behind the murder.

As for the Justice department, DOJ spokesperson Mico Clavano said they are looking at two masterminds and that there will be no surprises as the suspects and witnesses have so far told a similar story.

November 3: Another “person of interest” in NBI custody

Authorities said another person of interest in the slay case is in the custody of NBI.

The airport police unit based in NAIA Terminal 3 said the male person of interest arrived on a Cebu Pacific flight from Puerto Princesa, Palawan on Wednesday night.

November 4: DOJ eyes murder raps vs. 10 people

Remulla said authorities are looking to file murder charges against “at least 10” people possibly involved in the deaths of Lapid and Villamor.

Pressed if authorities have identified a mastermind, the Justice Department chief said the NBI and PNP are still in discussions.

He also confirmed that Villamor’s remains will be brought back to Leyte on Nov. 5.

November 6: Father of alleged middleman calls for justice

The father of Villamor called for justice over the death of his son.

"Why was he killed when he was already in prison?" Villamor's father said.

November 7: Murder complaints vs. Bantag, others

The NBI and PNP filed murder complaints against Bantag and other personalities allegedly involved in the killing of Lapid and middleman Villamor.

Atty. Eugene Javier of the NBI also said in a briefing that their investigation revealed that “Bantag and [BuCor] DSO [Deputy Security Officer] Ricardo Zulueta were behind the killing of both Percy Lapid and Jun Villamor.”

Javier said the suspended BuCor official had a clear motive to order the killings, first being the exposé made by the broadcaster on the issues against Bantag, and second was the attempt to cover up the murder of Lapid.

Remulla also said that Zulueta has been in hiding and that he has skipped town four or five days ago.

Aside from Bantag and Zulueta, several commanders and members of gangs in the New Bilibid Prison and Denver Mayores, an inmate from Iwahig Prison in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, are also facing murder complaints.

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ The Source, Berteni Causing, lawyer of the Mabasa family, said the pieces of evidence so far gathered point to Bantag as the mastermind behind the death of the broadcaster.

In a statement, the brother of the late broadcaster thanked authorities and supporters as the family continues its quest for justice.

Mabasa, in an interview with CNN Philippines’ News Night, said he believes there are more people involved, including a mastermind that could outrank Bantag.

November 8: NBI admits no evidence pointing Bantag

Javier of the NBI told CNN Philippines’ The Source that there is no direct evidence linking Bantag to the killing of Lapid, but noted what authorities used to come up with their conclusion is the “totality of circumstances.”

The NBI official also said that Mayores indirectly implicated Bantag as the mastermind behind the killing but directly implicated Zulueta.

Citing Mayores’ statement, Javier said the inmate recalled instances wherein Zulueta mentioned a certain “Tanda,” which is how inmates supposedly call Bantag.

Javier also said that Happy Go Lucky Gang chipped in ₱200,000 to fund Lapid's murder, while the remaining ₱350,000 came from Zulueta

The DOJ chief, meanwhile, said he does not see anyone else behind the murder other than Bantag.

Sen. Bato dela Rosa also called on the suspended official to surrender.

For detained former senator Leila de Lima, there is a need for authorities to dig deeper into the real identity of “Tanda.” She said Bantag was “not yet that old” to be called Tanda.

November 9: BuCor investigating footage of inmates; Bantag furious after Lapid took photos of his home, vehicles

BuCor officer-in-charge Gregorio Catapang Jr. told CNN Philippines’ The Source that investigation is ongoing on the CCTV footage showing inmates linked to the killing of broadcaster Percy Lapid freely moving around in the NBP.

In a September 13 footage released by ABS-CBN, a gang leader was seen being escorted by his members to the NBP’s administration building where offices of the BuCor officials are located. He was followed by Batang City Jail commander Alvin Labra, who is one of those facing murder complaints over Lapid's death. 

Citing Labra’s sworn statement, ABS-CBN reported that the two gang leaders met in September to talk in the office of the “overseer” about the order given to them in exchange for their release.

Speaking to reporters, Remulla said Bantag appeared to have been furious after the slain broadcaster took photos of the former’s home and vehicles in September for an exposé. Lapid implied that these assets could've been products of corruption.

Marcos, meanwhile, believes the investigation in Lapid’s case is not yet over as there could be more cases linked to it.

November 10: Bantag as state witness?

In an interview with reporters, Remulla said it’s far-fetched to talk about making a state witness out of Bantag.

Malayo pa ‘yon (That’s far-fetched). It will not happen just like that. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “That's wishful thinking. Because to be discharged you have to be the least guilty.”

Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento also said the murder complaints in the Lapid slay case have been consolidated and a three-member panel has been formed to conduct the preliminary investigation.

November 11: Bantag airs side on SMNI

In an exclusive interview with SMNI, Bantag denied the accusations made against him, even urging Remulla to resign amid the investigation on Lapid’s case, and the drug charges against the Justice Department chief's son.

Bantag also debunked Remulla’s claim that the former was furious after the broadcaster took photos of his home and vehicles, noting that not all of the vehicles were his.

CNN Philippines is waiting for response to its request for comment from Remulla, who is in Switzerland.

Bantag also clarified his earlier statement that he will not cooperate with the government’s investigation, saying it was made out of frustration.

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ The Source, Rocky Balisong, lawyer of the suspended BuCor official, gave assurance that Bantag will face the complaints against him. The lawyer also said Bantag is in the Philippines and will face the public in due time.

Meanwhile, Mabasa said Bantag's tribe in Mt. Province earlier reached out to them on behalf of the alleged mastermind. The tribe allegedly wants to perform a ritual at the tomb of Lapid that will prove Bantag's innocence.

Mabasa said the family is also ready to face Bantag anywhere as long as he tells the truth.

November 12: PNP to Bantag: Bring fight to the proper forum

Following the remarks made by Bantag, PNP spokesperson Jean Fajardo told CNN Philippines authorities will look into his statements, but stressed that these should be submitted to the right platform

"We will be checking on these information but we are encouraging Bantag to bring his fight in the proper forum so he could ventilate properly his defense," she said.

November 13: Percy Lapid kin open to talk with Bantag in 'neutral zone'

In a forum, lawyer Causing said the Mabasa family is willing to talk to Bantag, but this should happen in a "neutral zone" or with the help of an emissary as they are also fearful for their lives. 

November 14: Bantag will not surrender until Remulla resigns

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, Bantag said he will not surrender to authorities if a warrant of arrest is issued against him as long as Remulla remains justice secretary. 

He also believes Zulueta, who is considered the missing link of the case, will not turn against him. 

November 15: Bantag subpoena ‘deemed served’

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Charlie Guhit said the subpoena was served in Bantag’s last known address in Caloocan. However, he said the barangay captain informed the subpoena server that the suspended official has no longer been staying there since he was appointed as BuCor chief.

While Bantag’s camp said they are ready to receive the subpoena in Baguio City, where the suspended BuCor official currently resides, Guhit said, “The subpoena, insofar as the prosecution is concerned, is deemed served.” 

RELATED: Dela Rosa to Bantag: Suspects can’t be choosy, surrender once warrant is out

November 17: Bantag’s attendance in preliminary probe uncertain

Speaking to CNN Philippines, lawyer Balisong said Bantag’s attendance during the Nov. 23 preliminary hearing is still uncertain since “lawyers can appear in his behalf.” 

November 18: No subpoena, no attendance in preliminary hearing

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Balisong said their camp will only appear before authorities during the Nov. 23 hearing if they receive a copy of the subpoena issued to their client. 

Balisong maintained they have yet to receive a copy of the document, urging authorities to serve it in Baguio City.

Meanwhile, PNP’s Fajardo said they have yet to receive instructions from the DOJ asking for assistance to serve the subpoena to Bantag in Baguio.

She also confirmed that local police have information regarding the current location of Bantag.

Meanwhile, law enforcers are still verifying the whereabouts of the other persons involved, including Zulueta.

This story will be updated as soon as more information on Lapid's case is reported.

CNN Philippines' Bamba Galang contributed to this report.