MANILA — Nine farmers who were part of the 83 arrested over a land dispute in Tarlac last month filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Justice on Thursday against the prosecutor who charged them with illegal assembly and malicious mischief.
Farmers Felino Cunanan, Jr., Magdalena Magtoto, Mirasol dela Cruz, Myrna Diamzon, Sonny Dimarucut, Annabelle Magana, Erlinda Aboy, Abegail Bucad and Florinda Callena asked the DOJ to dismiss Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Mila Mae Montefalco, the acting provincial prosecutor of Tarlac, over alleged irregularities in her handling of the case.
Montefalco conducted the inquest proceedings following the arrest of farmers, their supporters and some members of the media in Tinang village in Concepcion, Tarlac. They are collectively known as Tinang 83.
Both the illegal assembly and malicious mischief charges were later junked in court but the farmers are facing three more complaints.
“Nagfile kami ng kasong grave and serious misconduct, gross ignorance of the law and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service sa inquest prosecutor na nagconduct ng inquest sa Tarlac, kay acting Provincial Prosecutor Mila Mae Montefalco dahil sa proceedings, sa grave misconduct na ginawa niya during the inquest proceedings noong June 10, 2022 at pag-aresto na 83 Tinang farmers at supporters,” the farmers’ lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, told the media shortly after the filing of the complaint.
In a 15-page joint complaint-affidavit, the farmers accused Montefalco of showing her bias against them during the inquest.
“Her questions were intended not to elicit facts, but to incriminate us of whatever crimes we were charged. That during the inquest, she already had a conclusion that we are guilty of the crimes for which we were charged and subjected to inquest proceedings,” the farmers said.
“She even asked journalists why were they in Barangay Tinang and why did they not prevent the ‘bungkalan’ from happening,” they added.
The farmers, who are agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) with a collective certificate of land ownership awards (CLOA) issued by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 1995, were tilling a portion of the land when they were arrested, accused of damaging the property occupied by the Tinang SN Multi-Purpose Cooperative.
During the inquest, Pahilga, the farmers’ lawyer, asserted the farmers’ claim of ownership to the land and suggested to refer the case to DAR but Montefalco refused.
The farmers were also not given copies of the complaint filed against them.
The complaint-affidavit said it was Montefalco who broached the idea of a compromise agreement between the two parties with the farmers initially agreeing to pay P200,000 for the supposed damaged crops and sugarcanes in exchange for dropping the complaint.
But the cooperative refused and Montefalco allegedly told the farmers’ lawyers that she will be filing cases in court because they “appear to be ‘vigilante’ or ‘left-leaning’” based on their responses to her questions.
The 2nd Municipal Circuit Trial Courts of Capas-Bamban-Concecion, Tarlac eventually dismissed the malicious mischief and illegal assembly charges on June 27.
The farmers said they were surprised that a separate charge for illegal assembly was filed against them before another court, the Concepcion, Tarlac Regional Trial Court Branch 113, which dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.
They claimed Montefalco committed grave and serious misconduct because of the “unreasonable, unfair, oppressive or discriminatory manner” by which she conducted the inquest proceedings.
They also accused her of gross ignorance of the law for refusal to refer the cases to the DAR even after the CLOA and the DAR decision in favor of the farmers were presented to her, which would have been in keeping with the provisions of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL or RA 6657) as amended by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reform (CARPER or RA 9700) and DOJ circular for cases involving agrarian disputes.
The farmers said Montefalco’s refusal to refer the cases to DAR led to their continued detention from June 9 to June 12, 2022, when they were released on bail.
Her action also allegedly tainted the image and integrity of the DOJ, they said, in arguing she committed conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service.
Aside from dismissal from service, they also want Montefalco removed as acting provincial prosecutor of Tarlac and preventively suspended without pay and benefits while she is being investigation.
In addition, Pahilga told reporters they will also file additional complaints against her next week and they will ask for her inhibition in the three other pending complaints before her.
“By next week ay magfa-file pa kami ng additional na kaso laban sa kanya kasi sa July 13 ay haharap pa itong kliyente namin sa preliminary investigation na iko-conduct ng office niya for the additional 3 cases na finile sa kanila which is resistance and disobedience to a person in authority dahil nagresist daw ng arrest itong mga kliyente namin. Meron ding obstruction of justice na isinampa laban sa kanila at usurpation of real rights, na ang magko-conduct ng preliminary investigation ay si Prosecutor Montefalco,” Pahilga said.
“So after filing this, we will be asking for inhibition from that cases. Gusto naming hindi na siya ang duminig noon at ibang fiscal na,” he added.
Citing possible interference from influential politicians in Tarlac, Pahilga said they want to transfer the preliminary investigation to the DOJ main office in Manila.
“And we will be asking the Department of Justice to create a panel of prosecutor. Ayaw naming magkaroon ng hearing doon sa Tarlac, not because wala kaming tiwala sa mga prosecutor but gusto namin, kasi alam naman namin ang mga kalaban ng mga magsasaka dito ay maiimpluwensiyang tao, mga malalaking pulitiko doon. So para even ang playing field, gusto namin magkaroon ng preliminary investigation dito sa national office,” he said.
Aside from the farmers, some 19 artists who were part of the arrested Tinang 83 filed a separate complaint-affidavit also on Thursday, raising essentially the same points as the farmers.
The artists said they were doing creative research by “actively participating and listening in on the conversations and stories about the everyday experiences and aspirations of the farm workers.”
They accused Montefalco of asking only confirmative questions during inquest and of not allowing them to finish their sentences.
“We were scared and anxious during the inquest. She sounded very degrading. She was very dismissive of everything we were saying. The interrogation lasted less than a minute each,” they said.
They also accused her of questioning their work, asking them: “How could you paint on such a small book? Shouldn’t you have a canvas?”
Sought for reaction to the complaints against Montefalco, Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento told reporters Thursday: “Matter was addressed to the Secretary of Justice. Definitely it will be acted upon.”