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The Supreme Court has upheld a ruling converting into a state witness a suspect in the killing of Ruby Rose Barrameda, who went missing in March 2007 and was found dead two years later in June 2009.
In its decision, the high tribunal agreed with the Court of Appeals when it ruled that Judge Zaldy Docena of the Regional Trial Court Branch 170 in Malabon did not gravely abuse his discretion when he discharged suspect Manuel Montero as a state witness.
Montero was the one who pointed authorities to the location of Barrameda's body, which was found stuffed and cemented inside a drum dumped in the waters off Navotas. Montero, however, later recanted his statements and has been missing since then.
Initially, the Malabon RTC's Acting Presiding Judge Hector Almeyda denied requests to discharge Montero as state witness, after the prosecution supposedly failed to clearly show that Montero was the least guilty or not the most guilty among those accused.
However, then-newly appointed regular judge of the Malabon RTC, Judge Docena, reconsidered and reversed Judge Almeyda's order. Montero's co-accused Manuel Jimenez Jr., the father of Barrameda's former husband, elevated the case to the CA then to the Supreme Court to contest Montero's conversion.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said it "expressly found" that all the requisites for the discharge of an accused as a state witness under Section 17, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure have been complied with.
Among the requisites was that there was absolute necessity for the testimony of Montero, considering that none of his co-accused were willing to testify on the case.
The SC also ruled that Montero's testimony was "far more material" that can be substantially corroborated during the trial proper.
The SC also said that Montero was not the most guilty, adding that while he was part of the planning, he had no direct participation in the actual killing.
"The discharge of Montero as a state witness was procedurally sound... The prosecution's right to prosecute gives it 'a wide range of discretion - the discretion of whether, what and whom to charge, the exercise of which depends on a smorgasbord of factors which are best appreciated by prosecutors,'" ruled the SC.
The SC, however, clarified that it did not consider Montero's recantation in ruling on Jimenez's plea against Montero's conversion into a state witness.
"The present case is not the proper venue for the determination of the value of the notice (of withdrawal or recantation)," ruled the SC.
The SC noted that a recantation is considered inferior to the testimony given in court. The high court said it would be "dangerous" to reject a testimony simply because the witness who gave it later changed his or her mind.
"In sum on this point, the appreciation of the notice of withdrawal properly belongs to the trial court," said the SC.
In a separate ruling, the SC also amended a CA decision ordering the inhibition of Docena in the case. The high court said the CA "did not provide factual or legal support when it ordered the inhibition of Judge Docena."
The high court said Jimenez's allegation of Docena's bias and prejudice was negated by the CA's finding in its amended decision, affirmed by the Supreme Court, that Judge Docena did not gravely abuse his discretion in granting the motion to discharge Montero as a state witness. — RSJ, GMA News