The case filed over the first media killing under Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s watch is at risk of being dismissed if the prosecutor fails to show up at the next scheduled hearing on Sept. 13.
Karren Belen, daughter of slain radio broadcaster Miguel Belen, said Prosecutor Antonio Ramos has been absent several times – the last two instances on Aug. 15 and Aug. 30 – earning the ire of Iriga City RTC Br. 60 Judge Timoteo Panga Jr.
“Sabi niya sa nanay ko [noong hearing], ‘pag laging ganun, baka i-dismiss niya yung kaso (During the hearing, the judge told my mother, if this goes on, he will dismiss the case),” said Karren in a telephone interview.
Ramos did not give any reason for his absence on Aug. 30. On Aug. 15, he sent word that he had sore eyes and had to rest for two weeks.
Panga Jr. advised the Belens to get another lawyer to replace Reyes if he fails to attend the succeeding hearings, Karren said.
Karren said she herself was disappointed with the prosecutor’s absence because “’Yung other witnesses kasama na po [namin lahat] noong [Aug.] 30. (All the other witnesses were with us during the Aug. 30 hearing).”
In a text message sent to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Justice Sec. Leila de Lima said she would address the problem of the absentee prosecutor.
Aside from Ramos’ absences, the case has also stalled either because witnesses were not available or the judge himself did not show up.
No hearing took place from June to July this year because Panga reportedly went abroad.
The Apr. 24 hearing also did not push through because one of the prosecution witnesses, a doctor, was not available.
And while the trial started soon after murder charges were filed against alleged driver Eric Vargas and accused shooter Gina Bagacina, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility reported that hearings were initially stalled for more than a year pending the hearing of the bail petition filed by Bagacina.
“Naba-bother po kami kung ano ang dapat gawin (We’re bothered; we don’t know what to do),” Karren answered when asked about the delays in their case.
Karren said the delays have also taken their toll on the witnesses. Those who have yet to be presented, she said, are already thinking twice about testifying: “Nandun po yung fear na baka balikan sila. Yung iba po, humiling na magsa-submit na lang sila ng affidavit imbes na mag-testify. (They fear that the suspects might get back to them. Some of them asked if they could just submit affidavits instead of testifying)”
Belen died in a local hospital on July 31, 2010, 22 days after he was shot seven times on the evening of July 9.
Apart from the Ampatuan Massacre case, 15 cases involving media murders are being actively heard. Ten media cases already have convictions, but no mastermind has ever been convicted.