Government prosecutors are not letting up on Hacienda Tinang farmers and their supporters, charging them with another criminal complaint in Tarlac City on Wednesday.
While appearing at a preliminary investigation for human trafficking charges connected with their violent dispersal and arrest by the Concepcion, Tarlac police last June 9, government prosecutors bared that nine of the defendants are also facing child exploitation charges.
“In today’s preliminary investigation in Tarlac, we received a copy of the records of the new trumped up charge of child exploitation against the artists, journalist and peasant rights advocates who were illegally arrested, along with the agrarian reform beneficiaries of Hacienda Tinang during the conduct of their peaceful ceremonial bungkalan of the land that rightfully belongs to them,” their lawyer Kathy Panguban said.
The latest complaint apparently stems from reports that several minors were present during the arrest and were among those hauled to the Concepcion municipal police station on the day of the incident.
The minors, reportedly children of the supporters present that day, were released to relatives and guardians within hours of the mass arrest.
Nine of the 83 were charged with the latest criminal complaint.
The new charge brings to seven the total number of complaints filed against them by the Tarlac Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, including alleged malicious mischief, illegal assembly, obstruction of justice, disobedience to authority, usurpation of real rights in property and human trafficking.
The Capas (Tarlac) Municipal Trial Court has already dismissed the malicious mischief and illegal assembly charges against all of the 83 farmers and supporters arrested and jailed for four days.
The Department of Agrarian Reform has also finally released its list of legitimate Hacienda Tinang land beneficiaries, including all members of the members of Malayang Kilusan ng Samahang Magsasaka ng Tinang (Makisama-Tinang) arrested on June 9.
“It pains to see how the justice system is being weaponized against what is right and just for the farmers who had long been deprived of the enjoyment of their property. Even those who support their legitimate calls are now being dragged to answer such fabricated criminal charges,” Panguban said.
Fiscal asked to inhibit
The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said in a separate statement that Wednesday’s preliminary investigation did not proceed pending the resolution of an earlier motion that the entire Tarlac Provincial Prosecutor’s Office inhibit itself from conducting the human trafficking compliant it filed against six of the defendants.
A similar motion was filed last July 8 by all of the 83 defendants pertaining to the conduct of the preliminary investigation into the charges of disobedience to authority, obstruction of justice, and usurpation of real rights in property.
The defendants also asked the courts for a transfer of venue of the investigations, expressing concern about the perceived influence Concepcion mayor Noel Villanueva over the proceedings.
Villanueva, then District Representative, was present during the arrest of the defendants and was recorded to have ordered the police to round up the farmers and their supporters who were having lunch at the time.
It was while waiting for the resolution of their motion to inhibit last Wednesday did Prosecutor Mila Mae Montefalco-Ikeshita bared the “never-before-seen official complaint” for the charge of child exploitation, UMA said in its statement.
The complaint had been filed by Concepcion police against nine peasant advocates, including the six facing accusations of human trafficking.
Five of those charged who agreed to be identified in this report are Donna Miranda, Angelo Suarez, Pia Montalban, Joyce Godoy, and Allan Bonifacio.
Farmers to file complaints themselves
UMA spokesperson John Milton Lozande that the string of charges against the farmers and their supporters is “plain and vulgar judicial harassment.”
“If anyone exploited any children in the case of the Tinang 83, it was the Concepcion police. It was they, after all, who violently accosted farmers and supporters in an illegal mass arrest in Tinang last June 9, stirring fear among minors present, then redtagged them to justify the round-up,” Lozande said.
Lozande also revealed that members of the Tinang 83 will themselves file administrative cases against the Concepcion police, particularly its officer-in-charge Lt. Col. Reynold Macabitas, at the Office of the Ombudsman in Quezon City on Monday, July 25.
Lozande’s group said their complaint will be the first in a series that the police may expect from them. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)