By Benjamin Pulta

PROOF OF LIFE. Bureau of Corrections deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta (right) meets with his counsel (left), Lauro Gacayan, in La Union in this undated photo posted on the lawyer’s Facebook account on Friday (Dec. 16, 2022). Gacayan shared the photo of his client, co-accused in the death of broadcaster Percival Mabasa, to prove that he is not hiding and is still alive. (Courtesy of Lauro Gacayan Facebook)

MANILA – Now that Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta has come out and denied participation in the slay of broadcast journalist Percival “Ka Percy Lapid” Mabasa through his lawyer, the Department of Justice (DOJ) expects new charges against suspended BuCor director general Gerald Bantag.

DOJ Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told reporters on Monday he had no doubt that Zulueta is alive.

Sana harapin niya ang mga kaso. Hindi pa siya humaharap, hindi pa siya nagpupunta sa DOJ (I hope he faces the charges. He has yet to face the complaint and has yet to go to the DOJ),” Remulla said in an interview.

Remulla said new charges may soon be filed against Bantag, the alleged mastermind in the deaths of Mabasa and suspected middlman Jun Villamor, who died at the New Bilibid Prison Hospital in Muntinlupa City.

Maraming kaso ‘yan. Hindi mauubos ‘yan. Dadami pa ‘yan kasi marami pang lumalabas na testigo ngayon (There could be lots of cases because more witnesses have started to come out to testify). More people are talking already about what happened before. Lumalakas ang loob ng mga tao magsalita tungkol sa katotohanan (People are having more courage to shed light on the truth),” Remulla said.

Remulla urged Zulueta to make a written declaration of his denial of involvement in the deaths of Mabasa and Villamor, both in October.

Mag-file siya ng counter-affidavit. ‘Wag lang sa media sasagot. Sumagot siya sa DOJ. ‘Yan ang proseso ng batas ‘Di bale na i-divulge nya sa media basta i-deny nya in writing, under oath. Mahalaga (He should file a counter-affidavit, not before media but before the DOJ. That is the process under the law. Even if he divulges things to the media, he should also deny it in writing, under oath. What is important) is to go through the process of law,” Remulla said.

Zulueta’s counsel Lauro Gacayan posted their photo on Facebook on Friday, taken at the latter’s office in La Union province.

The lawyer said his client never went into hiding and has been visiting relatives in Pangasinan province and Manila.

Gacayan added that they are still reviewing documents, including the affidavits of witnesses.

Meanwhile, in a press briefing, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Charlie Guhit said the panel handling the Mabasa case gave Bantag’s lawyers five days to reply on the comments of the BuCor chief’s request for DOJ inhibition.

As a high-ranking government official, Bantag said he must be investigated by the Ombudsman, instead of the DOJ.

On Dec. 16, the DOJ panel issued an order granting the request of Bantag’s lawyers to file a reply. (PNA)