By Benjamin Pulta

(PNA file photo)

MANILA – The panel of prosecutors hearing the murder cases against suspended Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) Director General Gerald Bantag has thrown out the prisons chief’s motion for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to recuse itself from the proceedings.

In an order dated Jan. 17, the panel said it is not granting the motion filed by Bantag’s lawyers for state prosecutors to inhibit from the case and to allow the Ombudsman to take over the preliminary investigation.

“In sum, while motions for inhibition, especially those anchored on aspersions of grave prejudice and partiality, are granted with the ultimate purpose and idea of maintaining the integrity and faith of the parties in our justice system, no room for inhibition can be had in these cases,” the order said.

The DOJ panel added that there had been “no violation of Bantag’s right to due process to be heard” and the DOJ panel “continue(s) to remain independent and impartial in hearing these cases.”

The panel consists of Deputy State Prosecutor Olivia Laroza-Torrevillas, Deputy City Prosecutor Christopher Garvida, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Charlie Guhit, Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Lincoln Asencion and Assistant State Prosecutor Eric Opriasa.

The preliminary investigation for submission of counter-affidavits of respondents is set on Jan. 24, 2023 at the Hall of Justice, Department of Justice on Padre Faura, Manila.

Bantag is seeking the recusal of the DOJ which is conducting the preliminary investigation of the cases for the deaths of veteran journalist Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa last October and the subsequent death of person deprived of liberty Cristito Villamor Palana, also known as Jun Villamor.

Villamor was tagged as the alleged middleman in the killing of Mabasa.

Bantag’s counsels claimed that as their client is a high-ranking public official, the proper office which should investigate the charges against him is the Office of the Ombudsman and not the DOJ.

Bantag’s legal counsel Rocky Balisong last filed a motion last Dec. 5 that sought the inhibition of the DOJ panel of prosecutors.

The complainants, including Mabasa’s family, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police, have filed comments on Bantag’s motion as directed by the DOJ panel. (PNA)