July 16, 2024

■  Rimaliza A. Opiña 

The priest accused of raping a minor has surfaced one year after the Family Court’s issuance of the warrant for his arrest and shortly after the appointment of a new bishop for Baguio.

Fr. Mark Batolne is currently under the custody of the Tuba Municipal Jail (TMJ) after his surrender on June 27. He is scheduled to be arraigned at the Baguio Family Court Branch 2 this month.

Batolne will remain at the TMJ until the court decides on the opposition filed by the complainant who said he, like other detainees, should be at the Baguio City Jail.

In a manifestation dated June 26, Batolne has asked the court to remain at the less populated TMJ as “shield from unnecessary exposure and interactions given the nature of his profession as a priest”.

Batolne also informed the court of his plans of filing a petition for bail claiming the evidence submitted by the complainant against him are weak.

The complainant, through her counsels, submitted on June 28 their opposition to Batolne’s detention at the TMJ.

The complainant’s counsels said while there is no law mandating a specific facility where an accused should be detained, Batolne is considered a flight risk, having been in hiding for over one year.

It is also a waste of government resources to allow him to stay at the TMJ, the petition states. Compared to the Baguio City Jail which is only a few meters away from the Justice Hall, allowing him to stay at the TMJ will necessitate government spending on fuel for transportation.

The TMJ is about eight kilometers away from Baguio, the complainant’s petition states.

The petition further claims detention at the TMJ is a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution as Batolne, like other persons deprived of liberty, are similarly situated.

The court directed Batolne’s camp to submit a comment  to the petition within 10 days from receipt of the order.

A priest of the Diocese of Baguio, Batolne is accused of committing three counts rape against a scholar of the diocese.

He belied the allegations but the Office of the City Prosecutor found probable cause and which resulted in the Family Court’s issuance of a warrant of arrest in June 2023.

He filed a motion for reconsideration and in October 2023, the reviewing prosecutor reversed the findings of the investigating prosecutor.

But the court, in January this year, denied the reviewing prosecutor’s petition to withdraw the information against the Batolne and reiterated service of the warrant.