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Tinang 83 files charges vs. ‘cruel and inhumane’ police

Tinang 83 farmers and supporters filed six charges against the Concepcion (Tarlac) Philippine National Police (PNP) at the Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday, July 26, in connection with their violent mass arrest last June 9.

The farmers and their supporters filed Violation of Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained, and Under Custodial Investigation; Perjury; Unlawful Arrest; Arbitrary Detention; Physical and Mental/Psychological Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Grave and Serious Misconduct and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service; and Grave Abuse of Authority and Oppression against the police.

At least 30 personnel of the Concepcion PNP, led by Lt. Col. Reynold Macabitas, were named respondents.

The complainants asked the Ombudsman to remove the policemen from service and issue a preventive suspension against them while the investigation is ongoing.

The charges the farmers filed is in response to what they say was very cruel treatment they suffered on their arrest, four-day imprisonment in crowded and humid jail cells and at the police head-quarter’s parking lot, and the seven of charges filed against them in quick succession by the police in collaboration with the Tarlac Provincial Prosecutors’ Office.

On July 7, several members of the Tinang 83 filed administrative complaints against Tarlac Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Mila Mae Montefalco before the Department of Justice for grave and serious misconduct, gross ignorance of the law and procedure, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

Tinang 83 members and lawyers trooped to the Office of the Ombudsman to file six complaints against the Concepcion PNP. (UMA photo)

 ‘Cruel’

The police charged the farmers and land rights advocates a total of seven criminal complaints after the arrests, including malicious mischief, illegal assembly, obstruction of justice, disobedience to authority, usurpation of real rights in property, human trafficking and child exploitation charges.

They were conducting a land cultivation activity when mass arrested by the police.

The Department of Agrarian Reform later released a list that named the farmers as legitimate beneficiaries of the property known as Hacienda Tinang.

The Capas Municipal Trial Court has dismissed the illegal assembly and malicious mischief charges against the farmers.

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura said the counter charges against the police are “just, urgent, and true—the opposite of those filed by the police against the Tinang 83 upon being prodded by Mayor and land-grabber Noel Villanueva.”

Villanueva, then congressman and Concepcion mayor-elect, was present during the incident and was seen to have ordered the police to arrest the farmers and their supporters.

An Office of the Ombudsman personnel receives copies of the Tinang 83 complaints against the police. (UMA photo)

‘Well-deserved’

UMA chairperson John Milton ‘Ka Butch’ Lozande said in the statement that holding “Villanueva and his lackeys” accountable is timely and deserved.

Lozande said that government officials like Villanueva treat the police and the military like their private army, bending the law to serve their own profiteering interests.”

 “This is an important wake-up call to bureaucrats and the people at large, alerting them to that fact that CARP (comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program)has repeatedly failed farmers, and its failure has benefitted no one but land-grabbers,” Lozande said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Land rights champions face more charges from Tarlac prosecutors

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)

Farmers groups, lawyers laud dismissal of 2 charges against ‘Tinang 83’

The Capas Municipal Trial Court has dismissed the illegal assembly and malicious mischief charges against the Tinang 83, a decision immediately lauded by farmers groups and their lawyers.

In a decision released Monday, June 27, Presiding Judge Antonio M. Pangan said the prosecution failed to allege essential facts to the charges of illegal assembly and malicious mischief against the farmers and their supporters.

The judge added that the court has no jurisdiction over the case as it involves an agrarian dispute and should be referred to the Tarlac Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) office for proper action.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) welcomed the dismissal of the first two of seven charges against those mass-arrested in Concepcion town on June 9.

“We laud the Court for recognizing the utter baseless-ness of the charges against the farmer-beneficiaries and their supporters. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from everyone especially the lawyers and paralegals who worked tirelessly for this victory,” the KMP said.

Dispositive portion of Capas MTC’s dismissal of the first 2 complaints against the Tinang 83. (Photo by Atty. Jo Clemente)

The farmers’ lawyers belonging to the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA) also hailed the dismissal, saying they are glad that the Court acted objectively and speedily.

“As we have said from the start, there is no factual and legal basis for the charges,” SENTRA said.

“We laud the courage and independence of Municipal Circuit Trial Court Judge Pangan. His swift action saved not just the accused but also the Filipino People from the expenses and rigours of a long-drawn but useless trial,” the lawyers added.

The farmers and their supporters are facing five other charges before several Courts in Tarlac.

The dismissal of the charges is the second successive victory for the farmers after the DAR in Tarlac has recognized them as genuine land reform beneficiaries over the disputed property last June 20.

READ: DAR list affirms Tinang farmers are the real land owners—KMP

Countersuits

The lawyers said their clients plan on filing countersuits in behalf of their clients.

“[T]he anxiety and trauma that the illegal arrest and the filing of cases against the 83, who are mostly students and artists, should not be left unchecked and unpunished. Thus, the 83 will file counter-charges against the police, the officers of the Cooperative, and possibly against the inquest prosecutor who filed the cases against them,” SENTRA revealed.

The group also said the farmer’s cooperative claiming ownership of the disputed farmland should also be made liable for its use of the land for almost 26 years without paying a single centavo to the real beneficiaries.

The KMP said it remains vigilant as the quest for justice for the beneficiaries goes on.

“[T]he unlawful conduct of state agents led by OIC PNP Reynold Concepcion Chief Macabitas and Acting Provincial Prosecutor Mae Montefalco must not be left without consequences,” it said.

Members of the National Union of People’s Lawyers are also providing free legal assistance to the farmers and their supporters.

Time for the farmers to own the land

Both SENTRA and the KMP called on the DAR to finally resolve the land dispute, saying the real beneficiaries still do not have full control and access over their land.

“We call on the DAR to immediately install the farmers since there is no longer any reason not to. The farmers should enjoy the land and the harvests thereon being the legitimate owners.” SENTRA said.

“[W]e invoke the authority of the DAR to investigate the acts of incoming municipal mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac Noel Villanueva who from the very start favored the side of the complainants, and took an active role in the prosecution of this malicious and baseless case against the legitimate farmer-beneficiaries of Hacienda Tinang,” it added

“[T]he struggle of the Tinang farmers continues as their formal installation as beneficiaries remain undone. The threat of additional schemes also remain as (Tarlac Representative and incoming Conception mayor) Noel Villanueva and his minions desperately cling onto the Tinang farmers’ land,” the KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Scenes at a police parking lot

CONCEPCION, Tarlac–It wasn’t midmorning yet but the heat is already unbearable. Crammed under two tents are more than 80 farmers and land rights advocates arrested on Wednesday afternoon by the police for trying to till a portion of a farm lot they say has already been awarded to them as early as 1995 under the government’s land reform program.

The detainees, dubbed the Tinang 83, were trying to till a portion of the hacienda with the same name as the community where it is located. They were taking a lunch break when the police arrived in droves in several vehicles, intent on arresting them.

“They were in no mood to negotiate. They surrounded our hut and started arresting as many as they could lay their hands on,” peasant rights activist and poet Pia Montalban said.

The detainees were given not given enough chairs at the parking lot where they were taken by those who arrested them. What paper cartons they have been using as bedding the past two nights are what they sit on. Paper plates they use to eat with are what they frantically fan themselves with, an arduous task under such wilting heat.

‘Tinang 83’ detainees under tents at a police parking lot. (Photo by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

The lone paralegal with them is busy, asking everyone how they are doing while constantly relaying the infuriating information to lawyers on standby that Concepcion acting police chief Lt.Col. Ronald Macabitas has not shown up yet. Their release papers lay unattended at the police officer’s desk inside an air-conditioned office.

Meanwhile, detainees with health conditions are being looked after by their fellows more attentively. One with asthma keeps pumping her inhaler, obvious it is about to run out.

Still, they are in a good mood, the student activists more so. Yesterday, one of them scheduled to attend her college graduation rites, Denise Macalino of Holy Angel University in Angeles City, wore the toga she had in her bag when arrested. She probably had the most number of well-wishers in her entire graduating batch, albeit attending the rites remotely and as a police detainee at a parking lot.

Denise Macalino wearing her toga at the police station as her unjust arrest withheld her supposed attendance to the graduation rites. (Photo from Denise Macalino’s Facebook Account)

The activists had another happy moment this morning. A fellow activist slipped in notes for them through the fence, drawings by children in communities they are organizing, wishing them well. Tears of joy flowed.

Detained student activists receiving notes by children from the communities they are organizing. (Video by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

Concepcion’s food delivery businesses appear busier the past two days, thanks to the support the detainees are receiving even from strangers. Food keep on arriving even if instructions on the delivery receipts are somewhat unusual.

A food receipt with a note to the delivery person, saying “Hanapin niyo po si *name of one of the detainees.* Naka-detain po siya sa parking area.” (Please find *name of one of the detainees,* who is detained at the parking area.) (Photo by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

Even the coconut juice vendor across the parking lot seem to be doing brisk business.

Supporters of ‘Tinang 83’ giving them fresh coconut juice through the fence. (Photo by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

It has been two days since the detainees are being forced to suffer inhumane conditions. But there is another thing that keeps their spirits up: a stray kitten they managed to save from the brink of death.

The stray kitten the detainees saved and was later given the same name as the land they are fighting for. (Photo by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

“It was already here in the parking lot when we were brought in. It was so weak and dying, ignored by the police who had their cars and motorcycles parked where it was. It could not even lift its head up. We fed it and let it drink water. Now, it eats on its own and walks around. So we gave it our red ribbons with slogans because it is now our comrade,” one of the student activists said.

They even gave it a name: Tinang.

(Text by Raymund B Villanueva, photos and video by Jek Alcaraz)