MANILA (UPDATED) — A Tarlac court has junked the illegal assembly and malicious mischief charges against the farmers, advocates and students collectively known as "Tinang 83", who were arrested for allegedly causing damage at a disputed land in Concepcion, Tarlac.
In 13-page ruling Monday, Capas-Bamban-Concepcion 2nd Municipal Circuit Trial Court Judge Antonio Pangan quashed the information or criminal charges, ruling that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and not the court has jurisdiction over a land dispute, citing the provisions of Republic Act No. 9700 or the CARPER Law.
“[I]f there is an allegation from any of the parties that the case is agrarian in nature and one of the parties is a farmer, farmworker, or tenant, the case shall be automatically referred by the judge or the prosecutor to the DAR which shall determine and certify within fifteen (15) days from referral whether an agrarian dispute exists,” the court said in granting the request of the accused that the case should be referred to DAR.
Most of the members of Tinang 83 are farmer-beneficiaries who were issued a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA).
CLOAs, according to the court, are “sufficient proof to entitle the holder the right to possess the lands and are issued as preparatory steps for the eventual issuance of a certificate of title after compliance with certain conditions/pre-requisites.”
The court took judicial notice that the DAR has issued a certificate of finality on April 2, 2018 ordering DAR Tarlac personnel to immediately distribute the subdivided lots covering 200 hectares in Barangay Tinang, Concepcion, Tarlac.
The complainant-cooperative, Tinang Samahang Nayon Multi-purpose Cooperative (TSNMPC), also claims ownership to the property and is contesting the award of CLOA before the DAR.
But DAR, on June 20, released a revalidated list of farmer-beneficiaries, which, according to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, proves the farmers who are part of Tinang 83 are the rightful owners of the land.
That CLOAs were issued to some of the Tinang 83 meant the first element of malicious mischief — deliberately causing damage to the property of another — was not present in the case.
The court also dismissed the malicious mischief charge for another reason — the information failed to allege that the act of damaging another’s property was committed “merely for the sake of damaging it” or out of “hate, revenge or other evil motive.”
In dismissing the illegal assembly charge, Judge Pangan said there were conflicting statements if the “Tinang 83” were armed and the prosecution failed to present any gun in court.
The Tarlac court also found that the same information charged 2 offenses for illegal assembly and obstruction of justice, which could be a ground for dismissal but subject to formal amendment of the charge.
Another illegal assembly case was also filed in another court.
Atty. Jo Clemente, lawyer for several of the Tinang 83, welcomed the dismissal of the malicious mischief and illegal assembly charges, saying these were based on the merits.
All 83 are still facing 3 more complaints at the prosecutor level for disobedience, obstruction of justice and usurpation of real rights.
The preliminary investigation on these complaints is set on June 27, Clemente said.
Some of the Tinang 83, meanwhile, some are facing 2 more complaints for human trafficking and child abuse.
Peasant advocacy group National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates-Youth said they will file countercharges against those behind the arrests.
“We will hold Concepcion PNP OIC Reynold Macabitas and Acting Provincial Prosecutor Mae Montefalco accountable for the grave injustice they have caused.”