Top witness withdraws charges vs Manero brods

- Allen Estabillo -
GENERAL SANTOS CITY — The six-month-old double murder trial here against controversial priest-killer Norberto Manero Jr. and his brother Artemio took a surprise twist last Friday after the prosecution’s top witness unexpectedly withdrew all the accusations against them.

In a hearing, Johana Mamalumpong, younger sister of murdered brothers Ali and Mambawatan Mamalumpong, told Saran-gani Regional Trial Court Judge Jaime Infante that she was retracting her previous statements and was no longer interested in pursuing the case.

She presented a signed affidavit, a copy of which was obtained by The STAR, clearing the Manero brothers and three other co-accused of any involvement in the Nov. 5, 1977 abduction and murder of the Mamalumpong brothers in Barangay Kinilis, Polomolok, South Cotabato.

"In truth and in fact, I did not see personally Norberto Manero Jr. alias Commander Bucay, et al during the abduction of my two brothers," she said.

She said she was only forced to testify against the Maneros out of "vengeance, tension, continuous pressure, strategy and false information."

"This is for the sake of truth and justice so that peace will reign in our hearts and not hatred nor vengeance," she said.

In a separate letter to her private counsel, Juan Macababad, Mamalumpong said she had been "bothered by her conscience and suffered sleepless nights while trying to conceal the truth."

She added that she was withdrawing the charges "for the sake of justice, fair play and peace, and the observance of the month of Ramadhan," the fasting and praying period for Islamic believers.

Mamalumpong added that her decision was based on suggestions from various concerned parties and Sister Susan Bolanio, chairperson of the Justice and Peace Desk of the Diocese of Marbel.

With her retraction, defense lawyers see the dismissal of all the charges filed against Norberto Manero Jr., who was sent back to the Sarangani provincial jail last February, and his brother Artemio, who is at present under the custody of Polomolok Mayor Clemente Tubo.

"It ultimately weakened the case. We could only see a dismissal here," Norberto’s lawyer Tomas Falgui III said.

Judge Infante is scheduled to issue a final ruling on the case on Jan. 25, 2001.
No settlement
Falgui doused off doubts that the retraction could be part of a settlement between the concerned parties, saying they were very surprised with the development.

"We had no hand in that retraction. As far as I know, it was voluntary on the part of the prosecution," he said.

But he hinted that the retraction could have been influenced by the apparent lack of evidence to convict the Maneros of the charges.

Falgui said that even during the past hearings, the three witnesses presented by the prosecution failed to prove the involvement of his client and his co-accused.

Manero was sent back to jail after authorities discovered that he had a standing warrant of arrest here. Manero, his wife Leonarda alias "Kumander Inday," his brother Artemio, Job Tolentino and Larry Gonzaga allegedly abducted and tortured the Mamalumpong brothers to death in Kinilis on Nov. 5, 1977.

Charges of double murder and kidnapping were filed against them but were archived in 1981 by the late Judge Pedro Samson Animas of the then Court of First Instance of South Cotabato, after Manero and his co-accused escaped before they were brought to court.

Manero was convicted in 1987 for the 1985 murder of Italian priest Tullio Favali of Tulunan, South Cotabato.

He escaped in 1992 but was arrested shortly after. After his life sentence was commuted by former President Fidel Ramos in 1997, Manero was granted a conditional pardon by President Estrada on Dec. 16, 1999.

Estrada, however, recalled Manero’s pardon last March due to certain violations of parole provisions.

Meanwhile, Falgui said that Manero, after the anticipated clearance from the case, would immediately be transferred to the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa City to serve the remaining years of his sentence on the previous case.

But he said they would immediately refile a petition for the granting of another pardon for Manero.








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