By Karlon N. Rama, Sun.Star Staff Reporter
He was a fugitive for 24 hours.
But minutes before government offices closed yesterday, Fr. Jose “Joey” Belciña walked inside the Palace of Justice and posted bail before Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Fortunato de Gracia.
So, for the moment, he is a free man.
Belciña had been incommunicado since June 28. When a warrant brought police officers looking for him at the Archbishop’s Palace but failed to locate the priest, his lawyer, Gloria Lastimosa-Dalawampu, said they did not know how to find him.
“The last time we talked was on June 28, when he asked if I had already received a copy of the resolution. I told him no and expressed my intent to file a motion for reconsideration. I also suggested that he raise the recommended cash bond,” she said.
The next time they spoke, she said, was about lunchtime yesterday.
She said Belciña called her up and asked if the report he saw in the newspaper—that a warrant against him has been issued—was true.
She said Belciña had been in Dalaguete town visiting relatives and trying to raise the P200,000 bail recommended by the special prosecuting panel that conducted the preliminary investigation on the rape case filed against him by an 18-year-old woman.
The panel, though, dismissed the three counts of rape and recommended the filing of a child abuse case with the RTC in Danao City, where Belciña served at the St. Francis of Assisi parish in Barangay Maslog.
“I told him that the report was true and he said that he had the money. So I told him to come to the office and that we’d go and post the bail together. He waited for me inside his car,” Dalawampu said. After posting bail, the priest left and Dalawampu faced the media.
Dalawampu assured that Belciña will show up for his arraignment and subsequent hearings, adding that if it were his intention to flee, he’d have done so during the preliminary investigation of his case.
Dalawampu then went to the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor and submitted her motion for reconsideration against the findings of the special panel of prosecutors.
She expressed dismay at the way the Office of the Danao City Prosecutor, who enforced the findings of the special panel of prosecutors, filed the charge in court without giving the parties copies first.
“Prosecutor (Jose Dionisio) Kiamko can be held liable for what he did. He has effectively deprived us of our rights to file a motion for reconsideration. This is supposed to be part of due process. It is so stated in the Department of Justice Manual for Prosecutors,” Dalawampu, formerly an assistant provincial prosecutor, said.
In her motion for reconsideration, she blasted at Kiamko again.
And in calling for the dismissal of all charges, she argued that the priest cannot be lawfully charged in court because “it was not established that there was indeed any sexual relation between the parties.”
“The testimony of the complainant during the clarificatory inquiry was replete with details inconsistent with the situation of a woman sexually abused; it should also be underscored that her testimony failed to support her allegation for rape, more so for child abuse,” the motion read.
Minor In its resolution, released last June 22, the panel dropped all counts rape against the priest for lack of evidence. But the panel said there is enough evidence to show that he had consensual sex with the under-aged complainant at least once.
Republic Act 7610, the Special Protection of Children Act, provides a prison term of 12 to 20 years for those found guilty of having even consensual sex with a “child exploited in prostitution.”
In their resolution, the panel cited Section 5, Article 3 of RA 7610.
It states: “Children, whether male or female, who for money, profit, or any other consideration or due to the coercion, or influence of any adult, syndicate or group, indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct are deemed to be children exploited in prostitution and other sexual abuse.”