MANILA, Philippines – A court in Capas, Tarlac has junked charges of illegal assembly and malicious mischief against 83 people – farmers, artists and journalists – over a dispersed bungkalan or cultivation activity meant to assert ownership over a land grant under the agrarian reform program.
The Capas 2nd Municipal Circuit Trial Court junked the charges in an order Monday, June 27.
The Tinang farmers and their supporters were conducting “bungkalan” or a cultivation activity on June 9, when police arrested them without warrants on allegations of illegal assembly and malicious mischief. Cultivation activities are usually done as a last extralegal resort by farmers to claim ownership of a land granted to them under the agrarian reform program, but are being held by owners, either private or cooperatives.
Judge Antonio Pangan junked the malicious mischief charge, having found no “evil motive” behind the activity.
The judge noted that the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) in the possession of the farmer-beneficiaries are “sufficient proof to entitle the holder the right to possess the lands.”
The CLOAs were issued in 1995. Finding out belatedly that there are already CLOAs in their name, the farmer-beneficiaries petitioned and obtained an order from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 2018, according to their lawyer Jobert Pahilga in an earlier interview with Rappler.
Judge Pangan said “the third essential element” of malicious mischief is that the offender must be proven to have acted “due to hate, revenge or other evil motive.”
“Without the third element of the crime being alleged in the information, it will be invalid for being a violation of the fundamental right of the accused to be informed of the nature of the cause of accusation against him. On this ground alone, the assailed information should be quashed,” said the judge.
The charge of illegal assembly was also junked after finding no evidence that any of the participants was armed.
In a technical discussion of the law, the judge said the only kind of illegal assembly that falls within the jurisdiction of a municipal circuit trial court would be an armed asembly; the other kinds, he said, are under the jurisdiction of regional trial courts.
“The responding police officers who arrested the accused were not able to confiscate, nor presented to this Court to serve as prima facie evidence, any firearm from any of the accused,” said the judge.
It turns out the police also filed a similar illegal assembly charge before another court in Concepcion, Tarlac, but the charge was junked on June 14.
“It follows that the assailed information for illegal assembly must be quashed for being duplicitous and for failure to allege facts constituting the particular kind of illegal assembly falling under the jurisdiction of the first level court,” said Judge Pangan.
The police have filed additional complaints of disobedience to authority, obstruction of justice, and usurpation of real rights against the farmers and their supporters.
The group National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates-Youth hints at countercharges against the police. It says in a statement: “We will hold Concepcion PNP OIC Reynold Macabitas and Acting Provincial Prosecutor Mae Montefalco accountable for the grave injustice they have caused.” – Rappler.com