Women's groups hit transfer of venue for rape case hearing

The venue, according to an order from the High Tribunal, would be transferred from Kabacan, North Cotabato to Makati City.

But the court’s decision surprised ‘Angelie’, the rape victim, as well as her family and the women’s groups supporting her.

Framer Mella, one of the conveners of the Justice for Angelie Movement and chair of the Southern Methodist Network of Women, said the transfer of venue might derail the process and will endanger more the lives of the victim and the witnesses.

The court’s resolution came after the Department of Justice (DoJ) in Southwestern Mindanao, led by Kidapawan City Prosecutor Al Calica, filed a petition at the Supreme Court for the transfer of venue.

In the DoJ’s petition filed last year, Calica cited at least two reasons. First, the primary suspect identified as Datu Andy Montawal comes from a “very powerful and influential family” in Maguindanao. Second, Pagalungan, hometown of the Montawals, is near Kabacan.

The rape incident, according to Angelie’s testimony, took place on February 25, 2008 in a lodging house in Kabacan.

The complainant said she was forcibly taken from her boarding house by a certain Bianca Montawal and Jerome Montawal, both relatives of Datu Andy, and was brought to a lodging house where the principal suspect was waiting.

“We want to prevent miscarriage of justice here [that was why we filed a petition for the transfer of venue],” said Calica.

Mella, however, expressed fears of a ‘whitewash’ should the venue be transferred to Makati City.
Mella cited as basis the criminal case filed three years ago by three Chinese businessmen against Montawal, which “was dismissed by the court in Metro Manila even if the evidences presented were very strong.”

Calica, however, rebutted Mella’s statement saying the court found the evidences against Montawal in the kidnap for ransom case filed by the Chinese complainants too weak.

“[Datu Andy] Montawal had posted bail and was acquitted later,” he said.

Montawal, police records showed, was implicated in the abduction of three engineers somewhere in Maguindanao in 1997, in the kidnapping of a Chinese engineer in Matalam, North Cotabato in 2001, and in the foiled kidnapping of another Chinese businessman in Tacurong City in 2003.

He was also implicated in several drug trafficking cases in North Cotabato and Maguindanao, some of them already dismissed by the courts.

“We consider Montawal a high-risk person and a high-profile suspect so we petitioned the court to transfer the venue from Kabacan to Makati City to protect the victim herself and the witnesses,” the prosecutor said. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)