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Philippine prisons chief accused of ordering journalist murder

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Philippine prisons chief accused of ordering journalist murder
Philippines’ Secretary of Interior Benjamin Abalos Jr., (R) gestures with Philippines’ Justice Secretary Jesus Remulla (L) during a press conference announcing suspects in the killing of radio journalist Percival Mabasa, at the Department of Justice in Manila on November 7, 2022. – The Philippine prisons chief ordered the murder of a radio journalist after he was targeted on his show, police said Monday, announcing more suspects in the case that raised international alarm. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP)

Philippine police accused Monday the country’s prisons chief of ordering the killing of a prominent radio journalist, whose death sparked international alarm.

Radio personality Percival Mabasa, 63, who went by the name “Percy Lapid” in his programme, was shot dead in a Manila suburb on October 3 as he drove to his studio.

Police filed murder complaints against Bureau of Corrections director general Gerald Bantag, who is currently suspended from duty, and his deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta.

The alleged gunman, Joel Escorial, surrendered to authorities last month out of fear for his safety after police broadcast his face from security footage, officials said previously.

“He (Bantag) will probably be the highest official of this land ever charged with a case of this gravity,” Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla said.

Bantag allegedly ordered the murder of Mabasa following the “continued expose by the latter of the issues against the former on his show,” Eugene Javier of the National Bureau of Investigation told reporters, reading from a statement.

Bantag and Zulueta have also been accused of ordering the killing of Cristito Villamor Palana, one of the prison inmates who allegedly passed on the kill order to Escorial.

Escorial had identified Palana to police.

Palana was suffocated with a plastic bag by members of his own gang, Javier said.

Criminal complaints also have been filed against 10 inmates.

Prosecutors at the Department of Justice will decide if there is enough evidence to file charges in court.

– Outspoken critic –
Mabasa was an outspoken critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte as well as his successor Ferdinand Marcos’s policies and aides.

He also had been critical of “red-tagging” — accusing someone of being a communist sympathiser — as well as online gambling operations and misinformation around martial law.

He was the second journalist to be killed since Marcos took office on June 30.

While the Philippines is ranked as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, such murders rarely happen in Manila.

Javier said the investigation into the murders had exposed “the institutionalization of a criminal organization within the government”.

“This will be the cause of many reforms in government and the strengthening of current mechanisms to ensure that nothing of this nature will happen again,” he said, describing it as a “war against impunity”.