AT LEAST eight persons of interest linked to the killing of a local broadcaster are in the custody of law enforcement agencies, the country’s Justice chief said on Wednesday.
In a livestreamed briefing, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla said the individuals secured were identified by a sister of one of the alleged middlemen who contracted the killers.
“What is important is that we have secured all these possible persons,” he said, referring to the people supposedly named by the middleman.
Mr. Remulla noted that four individuals were with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), three with the police, and one with the military but will be transferred to the NBI.
The dead middleman’s cousin, two sisters, and another middleman are part of the list, he added.
Mr. Remulla also said the sister’s mobile phone is already with the Department of Justice (DoJ) for examination on possible leads.
The woman earlier told Senator Raffy T. Tulfo on his radio program that her brother contacted her before his death saying three individuals may kill him in the national penitentiary.
Last week, the supposed gunman in the murder of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa surrendered to authorities and claimed he had been hired by someone inside the national penitentiary. He and three other accomplices, who are currently at large, supposedly got paid P550,000.
His YouTube Channel, which had over 200,000 subscribers showed he had been critical of former President Rodrigo R. Duterte and the policies of some sitting officials.
“We cannot speculate who the mastermind is. It is unfair to speculate,” said Mr. Remulla. “We will look at all angles and we will continue our coordination with the National Bureau of Investigation and local police about the case.”
President Ferdinand R. Marcos told a news briefing on Wednesday that he had doubts about the sudden death of one of the alleged middlemen in the case.
“I am not satisfied that it was natural causes,” said the President. “So I told authorities to look into this carefully, because there are ways to kill a person that do not show up in the medico-legal.”
Mr. Marcos had suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Q. Bantag after the middleman’s death.
National police chief Rodolfo S. Azurin earlier said that he had suspicions about the death of the middleman.
The NBI’s initial autopsy report showed that the man had “no signs of external injury.”
A second autopsy report is expected to be released by forensics expert Raquel B. del Rosario-Fortun on Friday, Mr. Remulla noted.
Meanwhile, Senator Rafael “Raffy” T. Tulfo urged the Justice department to probe BuCor personnel and offices as a step towards preventing the smuggling of banned items into the national penitentiary.
He said contraband items such as mobile phones are the “root cause of many crimes involving inmates,” so stricter security measures must be implemented.
“Apart from conducting regular searches in the inmates’ cells, regular searches should also be conducted in the offices of the BuCor staff because contraband, such as cellphones and drugs, cannot be brought into Bilibid without the collusion of the staff and its inmates,” he said in Filipino in a statement on Wednesday.
“A lifestyle check should also be conducted on the agency’s staff to stop widespread corruption within the prison,” he added.
DoJ Spokesperson Jose Dominic “Mico” Clavano IV acknowledged over Mr. Tulfo’s radio program that smuggling of contrabands remains rampant, and agreed to the senator’s recommendation for an investigation.
The Justice chief said at the briefing that he has advised BuCor Officer-in-Charge Gregorio Pio P. Catapang to use K9 units to help prevent the entry of mobile phones in the penitentiary.
Another lawmaker on Wednesday sought government protection for family members of the murdered local broadcaster who have been receiving death threats.
Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, citing a recorded phone conversation with an unknown caller, said the brother of Mr. Mabasa, Roy C. Mabasa, and his son were in danger.
“The family has no peace of mind, they can’t sleep, and are constantly worried about their family’s welfare,” she said in Filipino. “I trust that the government will protect and support the family of Percy C. Mabasa.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez, Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, and Kyanna Angela Bulan