Court acquits Cordillera rights worker of murder charges

Frank Cimatu
Court acquits Cordillera rights worker of murder charges
Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez acquits Rachel Mariano of murder and frustrated murder charges

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Rachel Mariano, the health coordinator of an non-governmental organization (NGO) in the Cordilleras, was freed this morning in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur after Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 25 acquitted her of murder and frustrated murder.

Mariano of CHESTCORE (Community Health Service and Training in the Cordillera Region) had been jailed since September of 2018 after 9 Army soldiers from the 81st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army accused her of masterminding their ambush while they were playing basketball in Patiakan, Quirino, Ilocos Sur last October 15, 2017.

PFC Peter Jhon Villanueva was killed in the attack while PFCAl-Esmail Michael Mama and a civilian named Anthony Maylon were wounded. Nine of the Army witnesses said they saw Mariano among the NPA who staged the ambush.

Judge Bañez said that whille he deplored the ambush, “it would be more deplorable and unfair to convict the accused of all these serious crimes charged against her upon the quality of the evidence adduced by the prosecution.”

He said he was not morally convinced of Mariano’s guilt based on the 9 affidavits charged against her.

Bañez sided with Mariano’s alibi, complete with witnesses and affidavits, that she was in Baguio City at that time and not in Patiakan, which is over 10 hours away. He also found it preposterous that she would go there and stage an ambush before or during October 15.

Bañez said the 9 soldiers were inconsistent in the number of NPA guerrillas who staged the ambush. He also said the soldiers changed their original affidavits and included Mariano weeks or even months after. 

Bañez added that Mariano’s job was not subversive.

“The function of a health program coordinator is to promote and build a community-based health programs in the far-flung areas of the Cordillera, They trained community health workers to serve as frontliners for the safeguard of health in these far-flung areas,” he said.

“She considered that speaking about human rights abuses by the AFP and PNP is part of her job as a health worker at Chestcore because she believed that the social, political, and economic conditions of a country affects the health of the people,” he said of Mariano. – Rappler.com