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Philippine investigators say suspended prison chief ordered killing of radio host

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Investigators in the Philippines allege a criminal organization carried out the murder of a popular radio host, and they say the national chief of prisons ordered the killing. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: In revealing their case Monday, investigators said that Correction Chief Gerald Bantag, now out of a job, had the means and motive to kill the radio commentator known popularly as Percy Lapid, who dubbed his program, targeting graft and corruption, "Lapid Fire." Government flowcharts show Bantag atop a command structure that relayed orders down to gang leaders inside the country's most notorious penitentiary. From there, investigator Eugene Javier says they orchestrated the killing of Percy Lapid on October 3.

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EUGENE JAVIER: He was driving his black Toyota Innova from his house to the studio when two persons, riding a motorcycle in tandem, situated themselves beside his car and fired three bullets, causing his instantaneous death.

MCCARTHY: Investigators insinuated that Lapid's frequent exposes about the prison's director general, including his alleged lavish spending, was motive enough to want the talk show host dead. The plot took a macabre twist when the alleged gunman who killed Lapid confessed and fingered a middleman who he said had arranged the hit from inside prison. That middleman was found dead in his cell. A second autopsy found that he had been suffocated to death with a plastic bag, held down, investigator Javier said, by his own gang members.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAVIER: One usually seeks refuge and protection from his own gang members. The fact that they killed one of their own indicates that there were instructions from the top, and the gang simply had no choice but to execute.

MCCARTHY: Investigators call their efforts a war against impunity and recommend charging Bantag and a deputy with murder in the deaths of both Lapid and the middleman. Bantag insists he's the fall guy in a case that has begun to peel back the rot in the Philippine penal system. The justice secretary called on him to surrender.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.