COTABATO, Philippines – The court in Kidapawan City has reduced the bail from P12,000 to P6,000 each for the provisional release of 77 farmers detained for alleged “direct assault upon an agent of a person in authority” following the violent dispersal of a three-day barricade along the national highway here on April 1.
The accused, including a 78-year old grandmother and 3 pregnant women who said they came down to Kidapawan because they were told they would be given a sack of rice each allegedly by North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza, appealed on April 8 to the “mercy and compassion” of the Municipal Trial Court in the Cities to reduce the bail for their provisional release from P12,000 to P2,000.
Judge Rebecca Elena de Leon ruled on Wednesday, April 13, that the bail, earlier fixed at P12,000 is reduced to P6,000 to allow for the immediate release of the accused “without prejudice to the evaluation by the court of additional documents to support your further reduction of the bail.”
During the hearing last Monday, District Attorney Orlando Dano of the Public Attorneys Office told the court that the accused have no capacity to pay. He said the accused are farmers and Indigenous Peoples (lumads) in upland areas that are “really hit so much by the El Niño phenomenon that “by mere statement that rice will be given to them in Kidapawan, that really induced them to come out from far-flung areas to Kidapawan hoping they could receive that rice.”
Setting bail beyond their capacity to pay, Dano said, is tantamount to “denial of their right to bail.”
Assistant City Prosecutor Eugene Seron and Associate Prosecutor Robbie Ann Solacito posed no objection to the reduction of bail, but Solacito said P2,000 is “too inadequate” to ensure appearance of defendants during trial.
Solacito said some of the detainees are living “very far” and “we are banking on probability of jumping bail.”
Gregorio Andolana, legal counsel of the Diocese of Kidapawan and a member of the Committee on Legal Aid of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) urged the court to grant the motion to reduce the bail to P2,000 on humanitarian grounds to dispel any doubts whatsoever that government is oppressing the people.”
Andolana, a human rights lawyer since 1978 and representative of the second district of North Cotabato in Congress from 1987 to 1998, told MindaNews on Monday that while support groups may be able to raise P2,000 bail for each of the detained, P2,000 would have already meant “at least one sack of rice each and probably two kilos of dried fish.”
Money raised but no ID, no bail
Lawyer Joel Mahinay of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL)-Davao City, said money has been raised from donations, including those from movie and television celebrities, for the bail of the 77 who remain under detention.
Singer Aiza Esguerra attended the hearing with her partner, Liza Dino.
MindaNews learned that of the 81 charged for direct assault, one turned out to be a minor and was turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, 3 posted bail, including the two church workers from Arakan last Friday, leaving only 77 detained – 66 of them in the Provincial Jail in Amas, 8 at the City Jail, and 3 still in the hospital.
But no release was done Wednesday afternoon because most of the detainees, among them the 78-year old grandmother, Valentina Berdin, do not have ID cards, Mahinay said.
He said efforts are being exerted to ensure this problem is addressed so they can be freed immediately as barangay-issued certificates were not honored.
Andolana said barangay certifications would have sufficed, “but some officials in government demand other government-issued valid ID.”
While only two lawyers showed up Monday to represent the accused, at least 6 more lawyers came Wednesday, among them IBP’s North Cotabato chapter president Dionesio Alave and others from the NUPL and the Public Interest Law Center.
The prosecution’s Seron repeatedly asked the defense to file individual motions and not lump them into one. Seron also said the prosecution would not file any comment anymore on their motion to determine probable cause.
Solacito also repeatedly asked the court that the accused be arraigned already, but the defense lawyers maintained the need for a reinvestigation.
Question validity of the arrest
The defense asked the court to give them until Wednesday to “reinforce” their motion for determination of probable cause through the conduct of a preliminary investigation, to give them “more time to produce documentary evidence,” as they noted that “out of the more than 70 people charged with direct assault, some have no participation in that action.”
The Office of the City Prosecution filed the information for direct assault after inquest proceedings.
Judge De Leon said resetting the hearing would “cause further delay.”
She said she wanted to resolve the motion that day given that all the collaborating defense lawyers were present, but the lawyers asked to be given until Wednesday.
“I want these cases heard tomorrow,” the judge said. She gave a 10-minute break for the defense lawyers, some of whom met each other only that morning in court, to discuss their move.
After the break, the hearing for Thursday morning was set for 9:30.
Mahinay told MindaNews they would continue to pursue their motion for preliminary investigation “to expedite the dismissal of cases especially the unbelievable charges on pregnant women and elderly people.”
“But we will oppose the arraignment of the accused since we are still questioning the validity of their arrest,” he said. – Rappler.com