(Featured photo provided by Dante Diosina Jr. / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Recently, police in the Philippines have accused the country’s Chief of Prisons, Gerald Bantag (and his associates) of being responsible for the death of a journalist last month.
Percival Mabasa, a 63-year-old journalist who also went by the name Percy Lapid, was shot dead in a suburb in the nation’s capital of Manilla while driving to his studio on October 3, 2022. Shortly before his death, he aired allegations of corruption against Bantag on his news program. Mabasa was also a critic of former Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte, who was responsible for a deadly war on drugs that led to the death of thousands of convicts. Duterte was also the same president who had appointed Bantang to Corrections Chief in 2019, despite complaints about his involvement in an incident that happened at a prison he worked at in 2016- where 10 inmates had been killed. Bantang was later cleared of all charges regarding that case. “Bantag had a clear motive to effect the murders,” officials said in the statement.
Not too long after the murder, a news conference revealed that officials would be relying on the help of three locked-up gang leaders to find the gunman responsible and raise the reward for his capture. The gunman, Joel Escorial, saw this and surrendered himself to the police over the fear of his capture. He told police that an inmate by the name of Jun Villamor had been told by detained gang leaders to call him up to arrange for the killing of Mabasa. Shortly after this piece of information came out, Villamor was killed by his gang in prison through suffocation by a plastic bag, allegedly on the orders of Bantag and his deputy security officer Ricardo Zuelueta.
As the case developed, the President of the Philippines, Ferdinand “BongBong” Marcos Jr., ordered the suspension of Bantang, who would be replaced by a former military chief of staff, Gregorio Catapang Jr. There has also been a search of the maximum security facility under Bantang’s authority, in which there were over 7000 cellphones, laptops, weapons, drugs, and cans of beer. “There are many crimes that we have to look into,” stated Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla at a news conference.
This isn’t the first time a journalist has been killed in the Philippines. In fact, Southeast Asia is one of the most dangerous regions in the world for media workers, with the Philippines being one of the most perilous of them all. The Philippines ranks number 147 out of 180 on the Press Freedom Index. This is due to the numerous unlicensed guns and private armies controlled by powerful clans that run rampant in the country. Ever since 1986, the year that Dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was overthrown, over 200 journalists have been killed in the country. 2 other media workers have already died under Bongbong’s rule ever since he took office earlier this June. “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,” stated officials.