KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/ 12 April) – If Senator Juan Ponce Enrile was allowed by the Supreme Court to post bail on humanitarian grounds, there is no reason for the court here not to reduce the bail for 79 detained farmers, including a 78-year old grandmother and three pregnant women, based on humanitarian grounds, too, lawyer Gregorio Andolana said at the hearing on the motion to reduce bail Monday morning.
Appealing to the “mercy and compassion” of the Municipal Trial Court in the Cities here, the farmers asked, through counsel Dionesio Alave, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippine North Cotabato, to reduce the bail for their provisional release from P12,000 to P2,000.
Alave was not present during the hearing but the farmers, who were charged with “direct assault upon an agent of a person in authority” following the violent dispersal on April of protesters demanding, among others, 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance during the drought, were represented by Andolana, legal counsel of the Diocese of Kidapawan and member of the Committee on Legal Aid of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ North Cotabato chapter, and Orlando Dano, district attorney of the Public Attorneys Office in the province.
Andolana said Enrile was allowed by the high court to post bail for plunder while hunger drove some 5,000 farmers from the hinterlands to come down to the city and, after ending up detained, are being asked to pay, for their temporary release from detention, an amount they “cannot produce without the aid of other persons.”
Andolana noted that one of the major reasons why Enrile was granted bail despite the fact that plunder is a capital offense, was for humanitarian reasons. He said one of the accused is a 78-year old grandmother and three are pregnant. “How can a 78-year grandmother old inflict injury to the police?” (see other story)
“The law is there but not all the law is morally based. If we take into account humanitarian grounds, even P2,000 is (difficult to raise). These hungry farmers cannot produce this without aid of other persons,” he said.
“We therefore pray, Your Honor, that the motion be granted on humanitarian grounds to dispel any doubts whatsoever that government is oppressing the people,” said Andolana, a human rights lawyer since 1978 and representative of the second district of North Cotabato in Congress from 1987 to 1998,
In August last year, the Supreme Court voted 8-4 to grant Enrile, who is facing plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan, to post bail on humanitarian considerations, citing his age (91) and poor health.
Enrile was accused of plunder of P172 million pesos of government funds released to dubious non-governmental organizations controlled by alleged mastermind Janet Napoles.
In his dissent, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said “bail is not a matter of right in cases where the crime charged is plunder and the imposable penalty is reclusion perpetua.”
He said the grant of bail to Enrile by the majority is “a special accommodation for petitioner.”
Leonen also noted that while mercy and compassion temper justice, they “should never replace justice.”
“Compassion as an excuse for injustice not only fails us as justices of this court. It also fails us in our own humanity,” Leonen concluded.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Estela Perlas-Bernabe joined Leonen’s dissent.
Andolana said Enrile was granted bail even if he was charged with a crime punishable by reclusion perpetua while the farmers, “who should not have been charged at all,” are facing charges of direct assault upon an agent of a person in authority, punishable by prision correctional medium or from two years, four months and one day, up to four years.
Basic constitutional right
Dano told the court that the accused belong to the farmer sector and Indigenous peoples in upland areas that are “really hit so much (by the El Nino 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.”
He said the detained are “so poor they could hardly buy their own rice.”
Dano also argued that “these people should not be charged for direct assault upon agent of authority” because they were merely “exercising their basic constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances. That is the basis for them
to demand for, to beg for rice” but instead were dispersed violently without even following the rules of dispersal as laid out in Batas Pambansa 880.
Judge Rebecca de Leon noted that the prosecution is not objecting to the motion to reduce bail “but the amount you are praying for is too low.”
Dano explained the accused have no capacity to pay. “In fact they were here only to beg for rice.”
Setting bail beyond their capacity to pay, Dano said, is tantamount to “denial of their right to bail.”
“Let us ease out this crisis by way of reducing bail,” Andolana told the court.
Assistant City Prosecutor Eugene Seron and Associate Prosecutor Robbie Ann Solacito explained they are not objecting to the reduction of bail but Sulacito said P2,000 is “too inadequate” to ensure appearance of defendants during trial.
Andolana told MindaNews 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.”
Solacito said all of the accused are residents of far-flung areas of North Cotabato and that while they are “extremely poor,” the certificates of indigency submitted in court were mere photocopies.
She added that financial capacity is not the only consideration of the court but also the probability of accused appearing in trial.
She said some of the detainees are living “very far” and “we are banking on probability of jumping bail.”
She reiterated that they are not questioning the financial capability but “flight risk of accused.”
Addressing the fears of the prosecution that the farmers would jump bail, Andolana said: “Government has all the resources and all recourses. Government is not short of alternatives.”
Seron said there is no working post office in President Roxas town, none in Antipas and even more so, none in Arakan.
“There is no flight risk on 78-year old Lola, three pregnant mothers and overly starved farmers,” Andolana told MindaNews.
Judge de Leon said some of the detainees refused to fill out Personal Information Sheets, as she showed the court PIS that were not filled out.
Dano explained that the detainees were afraid to fill out the PIS as they were asked to batch by batch. He said the detainees were afraid they would be transferred to Amas provincial jail from the Kidapawan Gym for the men and Kidapawan Convention Hall for the women.
He said the detainees wanted to sign altogether, to which the Judge said, the detainees were assisted by counsel but “still refused.” She said they “cannot accommodate all of them all at the same time” in the courtroom, hence, they were told to come in batches.
The judge set another hearing on Wednesday for the motions to reduce bail and for the immediate transfer of hospital confinement for Darwin Magyao and Alfi Awe who are confined in a hospital in Kidapawan due to gunshot wounds but who need to undergo operation and further medical procedures at the state-run Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.
She asked the defense lawyers to submit judicial affidavits of government social workers attesting to the certificates of indigency, and judicial affidavits of the attending physicians in the case of Magyao and Awe and those who have been discharged from the hospital but need further medical attention.
De Leon also said Alave “keeps on filing but when his motion is called, he is not appearing” and asked Andolana and Dano to formally enter their appearance in court.
“Even the court is confused who is the counsel of record,” she said, adding “if you are collaborating counsel of Alave, please enter your appearance.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)