The man who allegedly brokered the contract killing of Philippine broadcaster Percy Lapid died inside the national penitentiary this week, the country’s justice secretary announced Thursday.
Details of how the unnamed inmate died were not disclosed, but it took place Tuesday, the same day the alleged gunman in the broadcaster’s killing surrendered and confessed to the crime, implicating at least three others.
Suspect Joel Estorial said someone from inside the country’s national penitentiary arranged for the killing for which he and others were paid about 550,000 pesos (U.S. $9,300).
Estorial’s surrender was considered a breakthrough two weeks after the killing of Percival Mabasa (better known as Percy Lapid), a political commentator at DWBL radio. The commentator was known for stinging criticisms of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s government as well as some officials in the government of his successor, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla announced the inmate’s death to reporters, alleging he acted as the “middleman” who brokered the killing, but did not provide other details.
“It is the NBI and the autopsy that is very important,” he said, referring to the National Bureau of Investigation, the investigating arm of the justice department.
Asked to clarify, Remulla said: “I am at a loss here. That is the report I got. I want to be very candid about (it) here. I am just telling you, as I know.”
Mabasa’s family issued a brief statement but declined additional comments, citing an ongoing investigation.
“We are deeply saddened by the report about the mysterious death of the alleged middleman on the Percy Lapid killing inside the NBP facility,” it said, referring to the National Bilibid Prison in metro Manila.
Before the announcement on Thursday, Remulla told a Manila radio station that authorities were carrying out an “independent investigation” into Estorial’s claims.
Estorial, 39, surrendered on Tuesday, citing a fear for his safety after his photo was released to the public and a bounty raised for his capture. He named two brothers in the plot, as well as a third person. In addition, he hinted that the order came from inside the penitentiary, although no motive was given.
The Philippines ranks among the most dangerous countries for journalists worldwide. Dozens have been killed with impunity since the dictatorship of Marcos’ late father, Ferdinand E. Marcos, more than 36 years ago.
Mabasa’s commentaries were often bold and sharp as he sought to counter the spread of fake news in broadcasts and on social media. He also hit out against a perceived attempt by Marcos family supporters to distort history and blasted Duterte’s war on drugs that left thousands dead.