Philippine prison warden charged with murder of journalist

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine authorities on Monday filed a murder complaint against a prison officer and aide accused of masterminding. Murder of a radio commentator The crimes they said showed how the country’s prison system had turned into a “criminal gang.”

The complaint was filed against corrections director Gerald Bantag, prison guard Ricardo Zulueta, and other key suspects in the Oct. 3 shooting of Percival Mabatha, who had their sentences suspended. . Journalists had sharply criticized Bantag and other officials for alleged corruption and other irregularities.

Mabatha, who used the broadcast name Percy Rapid, is one of the latest media workers to be killed in the Southeast Asian country, considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.

According to a joint statement read at a press conference by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, interior and police officials, three gang leaders imprisoned in the country’s largest prison under Mr. ) was wiretapped to find the gunman who would kill Mabasa under the contract.

But after the killing, the shooter, identified by police as Joel Escorial, surrendered in fear after government officials raised the reward for his capture. He publicly identified an inmate, Jun Vilamour, who he said had been assigned to call him and arrange for Mavasa’s murder by a police officer. Gang leaders then suffocated him with a plastic bag, allegedly on the orders of Bantag and Zulueta, and killed him in prison, according to officials.

“Bantag had a clear motive for carrying out the murder,” the official said in a statement.

Mabatha was shot dead for critical exposure to the prison warden, and Villamor was murdered inside the prison by the gang leaders as a cover-up.

Bantag denies any involvement in the killing. He and Zulueta have also been charged with the murder of Villamor. An arrest warrant has not yet been issued, officials said.

Investigations into the killings have revealed an “unfortunate transformation of the pillar of justice, the pillar of correction, into a deep, large-scale and organized criminal gang,” officials said in a statement.

“This will be the cause of many reforms in government and strengthening of current mechanisms to ensure that this kind of thing never happens again,” they said.

In addition to Bantag, Mr. Rapid has also criticized former President Rodrigo Duterte, who oversaw a deadly drug crackdown. Duterte ended a turbulent six-year term in June.

Media watchdogs have condemned Mavasa’s murder, and the attack highlights how deadly the Philippines is to journalists.

Nearly 200 journalists have been killed in the country since dictator Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in 1986, according to the Union of Journalists. The group led a protest on Tuesday night calling on the government to do more to stop the killings.

In 2009, members of a powerful political family and their associates killed 58 people, including 32 media workers, in an execution-style attack in Maguindanao del Sur that terrorized the world.

Mass killings linked to political confrontations have demonstrated the dangers journalists face in the Philippines, with its many unlicensed guns, private armies controlled by powerful clans, and weak law enforcement, especially in rural areas.