The Justice Department has assigned a new lawyer for the camp of slain radio broadcaster Miguel Belen after the prosecutor who earlier handled the case failed to show up for weeks.
Atty. Jake Dimbayao will the place of Fiscal Antonio Ramos, as announced in today (Sept. 13)’s hearing of the murder case of Belen, the first journalist killed in the line of duty under Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s watch.
The replacement came after the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) consulted with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima regarding the problem of the absentee prosecutor. On Sept. 11, de Lima gave word that she would look into the said problem.
Today’s hearing was adjourned early, however, because the lawyer of accused gunman Erik Vargas, Atty. Ryan Jude Villar, asked to be given time to prepare in line with the recent change of prosecutor.
Said Karren Belen, daughter of the slain radioman, hearing dates for her father’s case have been set on Sept. 24 and Oct. 26.
NUJP earlier reported that Ramos has reportedly been absent several times. The last two consecutive instances were on Aug. 15 and Aug. 30.
His frequent absences reportedly earned the ire of Iriga City RTC Br. 60 Judge Timoteo Panga Jr. Panga declared during the Aug. 30 hearing he would dismiss the case if the absences would go on.
Belen died in on July 31, 2010, 22 days after he was shot in the evening of July 9. Trial started soon after murder charges were filed against Vargas and a “Jean Doe”, but hearings were initially stalled for a year, pending the hearing of Vargas’ bail petition. Iriga City Regional Trial Court eventually junked his petition.
Other delays, such as the non-availability of witnesses and the presiding judge have cropped up as the nearly two-year trial went on.