Detained farmers freed on bail; lawyers question validity of arrest

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/16 April) – All 81 persons detained in the aftermath of the April 1 violent dispersal of a three-day barricade in Kidapawan City have been released on bail as of Saturday noon, lawyer Joel Mahinay, Davao City chapter chair of the Union of Peoples Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) told MindaNews.

A total of 81 persons were detained on April 1 — among them a 78-year old grandmother and three pregnant women. They were charged with “direct assault upon an agent of a person in authority” after the dispersal that left farmer Darwin Sulang dead, as well as welder Enrico Fabligar who happened to pass by, and scores wounded from among the protesters, police and firemen. Lito Salon, another farmer who returned home on March 31 after two days at the barricade, was rushed to a hospital in neighboring Antipas town on April 3 and expired on April 4 due to heat stroke, his family was told.

The barricade was set up to demand, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice for drought-stricken farmers in the towns of Arakan, Antipas, Magpet, Makilala, M’lang, President Roxas and Tulunan and the city of Kidapawan.

FREED. Father Peter Geremia, assistant parish priest of Arakan in North Cotabato talks to detained farmers awaiting arraignment for alleged “direct assault” at the municipal court in Kidapawan City on April 14, 2016. The defense team moved to defer arraignment as they are still questioning the validity of the arrest. All 81 farmers detained in the aftermath of the April 1 violent dispersal in Kidapawan City have been released as of Saturday, April 16. MIndaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO FREED. Father Peter Geremia, assistant parish priest of Arakan in North Cotabato talks to detained farmers awaiting arraignment for alleged “direct assault” at the municipal court in Kidapawan City on April 14, 2016. The defense team moved to defer arraignment as they are still questioning the validity of the arrest. All 81 farmers detained in the aftermath of the April 1 violent dispersal in Kidapawan City have been released as of Saturday, April 16. MIndaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Of the 81 detained, one turned out to be a minor and was brought to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) while three were released upon payment of P12,000 bail bond each on April 8, leaving 77 persons still in detention when the motion to reduce bail filed on April 8, was first heard on April 11.

Judge Rebecca Elena de Leon of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities in Kidapawan City on Wednesday ordered the reduction of the P12,000 bail to P6,000 each “without prejudice to the evaluation by the court of additional documents to support your further reduction of the bail.” The accused had asked the court to reduce the bail to P2,000 each.

Mahinay told MindaNews on Wednesday that money had been raised from donations, including those coming from movie and television celebrities, for the bail of the 77.

But no release was done on Wednesday afternoon as most of the detained did not have ID cards.

On Thursday morning, Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon, chair of the Commission on Human Rights told MindaNews that since the bail hearing had been completed, “it is important for government to do everything possible to facilitate the release of the persons from temporary custody in order for people who have been deprived of their liberty to go on with their lives pending the legal processes taking their due course.”

“While showing proof of identification may be needed to accomplish this – it should be pursued by imposing the least burden possible to guarantee their freedom,” he said.

One of the defense lawyers, 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 told MindaNews that the problem of ID cards was solved on Thursday when they told the court that the accused would submit their personal information sheet (PIS) “fully validated by Fr. Peter Geremia and /or Rev. Ernie Ramos – the bondsmen.”

Andolana said the judge immediately approved “so as not to delay the liberty of the accused on bail.”

Motion to Quash

Ten of the 77 detained were freed on bail on April 14; 65 more on Friday, April 15, including the 78-year old Valentina Berdin and the three pregnant women; while two were left behind Friday “since release papers were misplaced by court personnel,” Mahinay said.

Mahinay went to the provincial jail in Amas, Kidapawan City on Saturday morning “to bring out the two prisoners left” – Ponciano Paonil of Barangay Kabalantian in Arakan and Ruben Mangga of Barangay Binoongan also in Arakan.

Last Thursday, the defense team comprising the UPLM, Andolana, Orlando Dano of the Public Attorneys Office (PAO), the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) and the Public Interest Law Center, opted to withdraw an earlier motion to determine probable cause and instead filed a “motion to quash the information” for lack of jurisdiction on the persons of accused who, Andolana said were “arbitrarily arrested and arbitrarily detained.”

He explained to MindaNews that the accused were “under warrantless arrest on April 1 and were not informed of their Constitutional rights to be informed of the reasons of their arrest, to be assisted by a lawyer of their own choice and not be arbitrarily detained beyond 18 hours.”

He said the case was filed only on April 4, beyond the 18-hour detention period for the charge of direct assault which is punishable by prision correccional medium or from two
years, four months and one day to four years.”

Andolana said Judge de Leon denied their motion to quash. The defense filed a motion for reconsideration which will be heard on April 25.

Accountability

In a press statement, another member of the defense team, Atty. Sarah Villamor of the NUPL, said Alfie Awe and Darwin Magyao, both wounded, were released Friday “but reportedly boarded the vehicle owned by the Mayor of Arakan.”

Villamor said that according to reports, the two were discharged from the Madonna Hospital in the afternoon of April 13 and transferred to the lock-up cell of the Kidapawan Police Station.

She said they will continue to monitor the whereabouts of Awe and Magyao, and their condition.

Awe and Magyao were subjects of a motion filed on April 5 by Dionesio Alave, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines North Cotabato chapter “for the immediate transfer of hospital confinement” from the Madonna Hospital in Kidapawan to the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.

In the same press statement, Jerry Alborme, spokesperson of the  Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) North Cotabato thanked the support groups, for their “unconditional and best efforts to give aid.”

“It gives us strength, seeing that we are not alone in our struggle. The peoples’ lawyers of the NUPL, Public Interest Law Center and the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers of Mindanao, along with paralegals from Karapatan in collaboration with allied local lawyers have toiled day and night just to ensure the speedy release of the farmers unjustly jailed,” he said.

But Alborme said their “long march to justice had just begun” as they are “not content with seeing our famished farmers freed.”

He said they want North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza, Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista and Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum, provincial police chief who was relieved from his post effective April 5 pending investigation, be held accountable.

“Only when they have been relieved from duty and put behind bars can we say that justice has been achieved,” he said.

The Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights will continue its probe on the Kidapawan dispersal on April 20.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)