Alleged Killer of HR Worker Eludes Justice Due to Political Connections

For 15 years, the alleged killer of human rights worker Cris Batan has evaded arrest. But it is not because he is nowhere to be found. In fact, the accused killer Mathew B. Fanao is Barangay (village) captain of the village of Betwagan in Sadanga, Mountain Province, and is the vice-president of the Association of Barangay Captains in the province.

BY ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
Northern Dispatch
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 8, March 30 – April 5, 2008

BAGUIO CITY (246 kms. north of Manila) – A Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge in this city issued anew a warrant for the arrest of an alleged killer of a human rights worker. The alleged killer has been evading justice for 15 years allegedly due to his political connections and is now an elected officer of the Mountain Province Association of Barangay Captains (ABC).

Ordered arrested by RTC Branch 59 is Mathew B. Fanao, who was elected as Barangay Captain of Betwagan in Sadanga, Mountain Province. He was among the five accused in the killing of human rights worker Cristopher Lognason Batan in 1993 near the Chico River in Betwagan.

Records from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) also showed that Fanao was subsequently elected as ABC president of Sadanga and later as vice-president of the ABC in Mountain Province in December last year despite the warrant of arrest – and alias warrants – that had been issued by an RTC in this city since 2004.

Batan’s lawyer and friends urged concerned government agencies to execute the immediate arrest of Fanao and Kengeb Fayno, his remaining co-accused at large.

Lawyer Jose Mencio Molintas wonders why the concerned agencies failed to arrest Fanao while in fact they can easily do it as he (Fanao) is a Barangay Captain, Sadanga ABC president, and ABC vice president of Mountain Province.

“Usually in a case like this, they could have served the warrant easily. But not in this case,” added Molintas, who was Batan’s main private prosecutor since the case was filed in Bontoc and transferred in this city. Batan is one of the important human rights cases being handled by Molintas, who is also national vice-president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).

Other Nordis sources claimed that Fanao, like his co-accused who were CAFGu members, enjoyed political and military protection. “If they (government security forces) are sincere, they could have arrested the remaining accused to give justice to Cris Batan,” a source pointed out.

Genesis of the case

Nordis learned that on February 23, 1993, Batan and his companion Mila Fanaang and Anglican priest Eduardo Solang were on their way to Betwagan to document human rights cases that would be included in a class suit against the Marcos dictatorship.

After they crossed the Chico River and while approaching Betwagan, five armed CAFGU shot the trio. Batan was hit on the hip and one CAFGU approached the group and shot Batan at close range, causing his death.

A murder case was filed in Bontoc, Mountain Proviunce against the two identified CAFGU namely, Agustin Agpawa and Chumacog based on the statements of Fanaang and Solang while the other three accused were included as John Does. It was in 2003 when Chumacog named their three unidentified companions as Mateo Fanao, Kengeb Fayno, Jr. and Panyong Rongan. Afterwards a warrant was issued against them.

From Bontoc to Baguio

After the filing of the case in Bontoc, tensions arose between the family of the accused who is from the Betwagan tribe and the victim’s family who are from Lias tribe of Barlig, Mountain Province. Batan’s family then filed a petition before the Supreme Court for a transfer of venue, which the High Court granted.

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