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Eyewitness in journalist's killing prevented from testifying in court

(CMFR/IFEX) - A crucial eyewitness in a journalist's killing was prevented from testifying in court on the strength of an arrest warrant served by the police for a cock-fighting offense allegedly committed by the witness in 1998.

Ferdinand Bayles, an eyewitness in the 22 May 2006 murder of Fernando "Dong" Batul in Aklan, was arrested by police just as he was about to present his testimony on the witness stand on 28 November 2007 at the Palawan Regional Trial Court branch 52, presided over by Judge Toribio Ilao. Palawan is an island province approximately 586 kilometres southwest of Manila.

Batul, a radio commentator for the Palawan-based station dyPR, was shot 12 times and killed just 200 metres away from the radio station by a gunman onboard a motorcycle. Batul was known to be critical of Puerto Princesa mayor Edward Hagedorn. He was 34.

The suspect in the case, Aaron Golifardo, is a former police officer.

After Bayles was sworn in, the defense panel informed Ilao that there is a pending arrest warrant on Bayles arising from a cock-fighting offense in 1998. Joselito Alisuag of the prosecution asked that the arrest warrant be served after Bayles gives his testimony. Ilao denied Alisuag's motion.

"Go with the police. Anyway, the case against you is not that serious," presiding judge Toribio Ilao told Bayles, as recalled by Fernando's sister, Letty, who was present at the hearing.

Bayles was released from jail after the prosecution raised P10,000 (approx. US$233) for his bail.

Bayles, a tricycle operator, said that he does not recall any incident of him betting on a cockfight.

"I am not a gambler. I am just a tricycle driver. The nearest that I've come to cock-fighting is when I take my passengers to the cock-fighting arena," Bayles said.

"This is harassment," Bayles added.

Alisuag said that there were also two previous attempts to block the testimony of two witnesses through arrest warrants, both of which the prosecution managed to prevent.

"There is a consistent attempt to derail the presentation of our witnesses," Alisuag said.

Bayles is a crucial witness as he claims to have seen the killing of Batul. He also helped carry the body of Batul away from his vehicle.

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