Suspect in murder of activist surrenders

Northern Dispatch
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BAGUIO CITY —After evading the law for 18 years, a suspect in the killing of a human rights worker surrendered to authorities.

Mathew or Mateo Fanao, one of the five members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) allegedly involved in the murder of Cristopher Batan, then a staff member of the Mountain Province Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), in 1993.

According to the Police Regional Office in the Cordillera (Procor), Fanao surrendered on September 8 to Sadanga Mayor Gabino Ganggangan. Ganggangan accompanied Fanao to the Regional Trial Court Branch 59 in Baguio City. He is now detained at the Baguio City jail.

Cirilo Batan, an older brother of Cristopher, expressed relief. “We would like to commend those who worked for the incarceration of Fanao. After 18 years, he is now in jail. But we still quest for the attainment of full justice for the murder of my brother,” the elder Batan said in an interview.

RTC Branch 59 issued a warrant of arrest was issued against Fanao in 2004 when he was identified by one of his co-accused.

Despite the warrant for his arrest issued by the court, Fanao was able to evade arrest due to his political connections, according to sources in Mountain Province.

Fanao was elected village chief of Betwagan, Sadanga in 2007. Records from the regional offices of the Commission on Commission Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) showed that Fanao was also elected as president of the Association of Barangay Captains for Sadanga and elected as vice president of the ABC in Mountain Province in the same year.

Cirilo wrote the president, the Department of Justice, and the Commission on Human Rights, raising the issue on the non-arrest of Fanao. Subsequently, the DILG under Secretary Jesse Robredo issued a memorandum to concerned offices to effect the arrest of Fanao.

“I am still confused if Fanao really surrendered or if he was arrested based on the DILG order,” said a source monitoring the Batan case.

A source of the Northern Dispatch said Fanao was arrested by the PNP Sadanga. Nordis tried to reach Sadanga Chief of Police Marcial L. Valdez to verify the report but failed to get an answer as of press time.

Genesis of the case

On Feb. 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 late President Ferdinand Marcos.

Just as they crossed the Chico River on the hangging bridge of Betwagan, five Cafgu members shot at them. 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 Province against the Cafgu. For security reasons, the Batan family filed a petition before the Supreme Court for a transfer of venue for the hearing to this city, which the high court granted. RTC Branch 59 in this city, which acquired jurisdiction over the case, had issued warrants of arrest against the five accused Cafgu.

Accused Agustin Agpawa was arrested in 1994 while Bonifacio Chumacog in 2003. Both were convicted and are serving their sentences in prison up to this day.

On Jan. 17, 2008, another accused, Panyong Rongan, surrendered to the PNP in Sadanga. He was detained at the city jail here but was able to post bail in 2010. Unlike his two accused Agpawa and Chumacog, he was acquitted of the murder case.

Kengeb Fayno, the fifth accused, is the only one remaining at large.

“We urge the concerned authorities to immediately effect the arrest of Fayno. We want that full justice be realized on the murder of my brother as we enter almost two decades of pursuing the case,” Cirilo said in an interview.

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