Task force formed to probe killing of Ilocos judge
DAGUPAN CITY, Pangasinan, Philippines — A special task force was formed to look into the killing on Tuesday of Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Ilocos Sur province as investigators zeroed in on his work as the main motive behind the ambush.
Bañez, 54, was gunned down by men on a motorcycle as he was driving home to Barangay Dalanguyan in San Fernando City, La Union province, at 5:40 p.m.
He was the presiding judge of RTC Branch 25 in Tagudin town, Ilocos Sur.
“We are focusing on work-related motives, but there’s no particular issue yet,” Police Lt. Col. Silverio Ordinado Jr., spokesperson for the Ilocos regional police, told the Inquirer by telephone on Wednesday.
Citing an initial investigation, Ordinado said investigators had obtained a security camera footage at the crime scene.
Bañez had a bullet wound in the head and died while being taken to Bethany Hospital, also in San Fernando City.
Bañez’s killing came four days after a former judge, Exequil Dagala, was shot dead inside his house in Del Carmen town, Surigao del Norte province.
Police said the gunmen barged into Dagala’s house at 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 1. They fled aboard a van.
Bañez, in one of his recent court decisions on Sept. 4, acquitted Ibaloy activist Rachel Mariano of murder and frustrated murder charges filed by the military.
The Army accused Mariano of killing a soldier and wounding several others in a supposed encounter between New People’s Army rebels and government soldiers in Quirino town, Ilocos Sur, in October 2017.
In a 25-page decision, Bañez said there was “reasonable doubt” that Mariano participated in the supposed encounter.
Bañez used to work with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in the early 1990s when he was a law student at the Baguio Colleges Foundation (now University of the Cordilleras).
He later worked at the Department of Justice after passing the bar examination in 1996.
The CHR in Ilocos region condemned the killing of Bañez, describing it as a “dastardly act and senseless.”
A team headed by lawyer Harold Kub-aron, CHR Cordillera regional director, began its parallel investigation of the attack.
The La Union chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines also assailed the killing. “We are shocked. We are outraged beyond words. We condemn this senseless act,” it said in a statement.
In Manila, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta called on the police to pursue the culprits behind Bañez’s slaying.
Peralta, who hails from Ilocos Sur, said the judiciary “strongly condemned” the latest attack on one of its members.
“I call on the law enforcement agencies to exert their best efforts and be relentless in their investigation for the immediate apprehension of those responsible for this atrocious and dastardly act,” Peralta said on Wednesday.
Records from the Office of the Court Administrator showed that Bañez was the 31st judge slain since January 1999.
Several international lawyers and groups have been calling on President Duterte to look into the killing of lawyers, judges and court personnel, noting that 41 of them have died in attacks since he assumed office in 2016. —With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Erwin Mascariñas
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