Investigation by publicity: Abalos’ boo-boo?

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Abalos at his show, with confessed gunman.

I CAN’T believe how the police and Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. has mishandled the killing of broadcaster Percival Mabasa (“Percy Lapid”). This is another case of that old, yet still biting cliché: “Only in the Philippines.”

Through the press, the police and Abalos had alerted, deliberately or not, the masterminds where they are in their investigations, practically warning them to do what they have to do to avoid being identified and arrested. An investigation by publicity. (Strangely or not, PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. wasn’t in Abalos’ press conference.)

Mabasa was killed by a gunman on October 3, when his car was stopped by traffic going to his subdivision’s gates. On October 18 in the morning, Abalos had a press conference in which he presented a Joel Escorial who had surrendered to the police the day before and “confessed” to have killed Mabasa, and that he and his conspirators were paid P550,000 for it. Escorial claimed that there were two middlemen, one of whom was an inmate at the New Bilibid prison.

One of the middlemen who was in the Bilibid prison, a Jun Villamor, would be found out — two days later on October 19 — to have been killed hours after the gunman appeared in Abalos’ press conference.

Isn’t it obvious that Abalos’ press conference in which the gunman confessed, and reported that the middlemen were in prison, most likely made the mastermind scramble to have the broker killed — at least the one in the New Bilibid Prison — so he wouldn’t be fingered? That or Abalos and the PNP are housing the mastermind’s moles who leaked to him Escorial’s surrender and what he ratted to the police.

He (BBM) said; she (NBI’s medio-legal Dr. Marivic Villarin-Floro) said.

It is astonishing to me that Abalos nor any police general didn’t ask Bantag — even using the threat of kicking him out of PNP headquarters, unescorted — who the mastermind was. It is impossible that Bantag didn’t know.

Mastermind

If the mastermind has the resources to get a media man killed, with a middleman in prison to recruit and pay the gunmen, wouldn’t he have the means to immediately order the middleman killed in the span of hours? That would have been so easy, especially if — and I emphasize the “if” — the mastermind is the head of the Bureau of Corrections that supervised the New Bilibid Prison — Gerald Bantag.

Philippine Star’s Ramon Tulfo — the columnist who has a huge network of sources in the police — wrote yesterday: “In at least three of his commentaries, Lapid called out Bantag for allegedly building a mansion on a salary of a government functionary. In short, there was a motive for Bantag to want to have Lapid silenced.”

Bantag, however, denies the broadcaster’s allegation, saying, “My house is still a plan. My current house is so small I hit my head whenever I go up to the attic. The prison chief also denies Lapid’s allegation that he had eleven vehicles lined up along the street in an exclusive subdivision in Laguna.”

But all this speculation is due to authorities’ big boo-boo in solving this case: Releasing to the public information that has come to them, even as these were inadequate — or turn out even inaccurate — in identifying and arresting the mastermind and everyone involved in it.

Standard procedure

Isn’t it police standard operating procedure not to release any information to the public that suspects would be able to use — in this case, to alert the mastermind to order the killing of his murder broker? Isn’t it police protocol not to release any information to the public until they have the case really solved, with the suspects arrested and prosecutors can confidently file the appropriate case in court?

Escorial, the gunman surrendered on October 17, claiming he feared for his life as the mastermind may have ordered him killed to cover his tracks. Next day, Abalos calls for a conference, the secretary even holding the microphone of Escorial’s confession.

In just a day’s time, the police were totally convinced of his confession? Didn’t they do a background check on him first even arrested and interrogated everyone he knew?

Escorial revealed his accomplices — Edmon Dimaculangan, Israel Dimaculangan, and a still unidentified “Orly” or “Orlando.” Why didn’t the police first look for them and arrest them? Escorial certainly knew where his accomplices lived or at least in what neighborhood. Did they give up after a day?

However, now there is much doubt that the middleman was killed in the first place. The Manila Times reported yesterday: “In its initial report submitted to the Department of Justice, the National Bureau of Investigation said there were ‘no apparent signs of external physical injury’ found on the body of Jun Globa Villamor during the autopsy.”

Hemorrhagic

“The heart showed a hemorrhagic area over the left ventricle,” Dr. Marivic Villarin-Floro, NBI medico legal officer and Task Force Villamor leader, wrote in her report dated October 20. The mitral valve is sclerotic, which could indicate previous illnesses or valvular infection, Dr. Villarin-Floro added.

“Villamor was brought to the National Prison Hospital on October 18 but was declared dead at 2:05 p.m. after 35 minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) conducted by Dr. Marjorie An Sanidad.”

In another twist of this investigation-by-publicity episode, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has joined the fray. Several newspaper headlines yesterday read: “BBM doubts NBP middleman died of natural causes.”

Marcos should appoint a Press Secretary or a Spokesman already. Or should Abalos start to worry he’ll be reassigned to become agriculture secretary, with Marcos taking over his post?

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