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Three years after journalist's murder, suspects' trial nears resolution

(CMFR/IFEX) - After three long years, the wheels of justice may finally catch up with the killers of an Ilocano broadcast journalist, one of the 33 journalists killed in the line of duty during the Arroyo Administration.

Currently being tried in Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 54, the Roger Mariano case is moving towards a resolution. Two witnesses have positively identified Senior Police Officer 4 Apolonio Medrano and Basilio Yadao as the assassins of the slain journalist.

Medrano was a member of the Philippine National Police Criminal Intelligence and Detection Group and was assigned at the Cordillera Autonomous Region at the time of Mariano's death.

Arnold Guerrero, private prosecutor of Mariano's family, believes that the case could be resolved within the year, after four or five more hearings. He believes that "the prosecution has a strong case."

In the 18 July 2007 hearing, Isidro Madamba Jr., one of the prosecution's eyewitnesses to the crime, was cross-examined by the defence, headed by Atty. Eddie Tamondong.

Madamba narrated that he was passing by the road in his car when the incident took place. Madamba said that he could not identify with certainty the other two suspects since he only saw their backs. However, he was able to partially see the gunman's face when the latter glanced towards him. When asked by the judge to state if the person he saw that night was inside the courtroom, he pointed to Yadao.

Earlier, Alvin Turingan, a tricycle driver, had positively identified Medrano as one of the killers.

Turingan said he was driving on the highway behind Mariano who was on a motorcycle. He saw Medrano take a shot at Mariano. He added that Medrano, along with the other suspect, got into a van after Mariano fell. Aside from Medrano, Turingan said that he also saw a short man, fitting Yadao's description, at the scene of the crime.

The case was transferred to the Manila RTC from the RTC Branch 15 in Laoag City after the Supreme Court, acting on a 13 July 2005 petition from Mariano's family, released a resolution dated 3 April 2006 ordering the transfer.

In the petition for change of venue, Guerero cited safety concerns for the witnesses and also the need for a more neutral court. According to some reports, Mariano's wife, Alma, feared that witnesses to her husband's murder might be pressured, given the alleged influence of Medrano in the province. The petition for the change of venue was also endorsed by the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Inc., which interceded with the Supreme Court for the prompt transfer of the case.

On 19 June 2006, Judge Benjamin Turgano sent Mariano's case records to the RTC executive judge in Manila. Judge Manuel M. Barrios then directed the warden of the Ilocos Norte Provincial Jail on 3 July 2006 to transfer Medrano and Yadao to Manila. The two suspects were remanded to the Manila City Jail on 25 July 2006, just two days before their arraignment.

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