'Tinang 83' move to inhibit prosecutor; ask for transfer of probe to DOJ Manila

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 08 2022 07:37 PM

Atty. Jobert Pahilga, one of the legal counsels of the Tinang 83, prepares to enter the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila on July 7, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/file
Atty. Jobert Pahilga, one of the legal counsels of the Tinang 83, prepares to enter the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila on July 7, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA — Members of "Tinang 83" have asked a Tarlac prosecutor to inhibit from the case and to transfer the venue of the probe to the Department of Justice (DOJ) main office in Manila.

In an omnibus motion filed on Friday before the Tarlac City Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, respondents who are farmers, artists, journalists and peasant rights advocates, asked acting provincial prosecutor Mila Mae Montefalco-Ikeshita and her entire office to inhibit from conducting the preliminary investigation on the complaints against them.

Tinang 83 are facing complaints for disobedience to persons in authority, obstruction of justice and usurpation of real rights in connection with a cultivation activity in Tinang village in Concepcion, Tarlac last month.

They were previously charged in court with illegal assembly and malicious mischief but the charges were dismissed by a Tarlac court.

On Thursday, they filed an administrative case before the DOJ in Manila against Montefalco-Ikeshita, accusing her of grave and serious misconduct because of the supposedly “unreasonable, unfair, oppressive or discriminatory manner” by which she conducted the inquest proceedings.

In asking for the prosecutor’s dismissal from service, Tinang 83 members also accused her of gross ignorance of the law for refusal to refer the cases to the Department of Agrarian Reform even after the certificate of land ownership award (CLOA) and the DAR decision in favor of the farmers were presented to her.

The farmers are claiming ownership of the land as agrarian reform beneficiaries who have been awarded a collective CLOA since 1995. 

A 2018 DAR order directed the immediate distribution of the land to the farmers but the land remained in the possession of the Tinang SN Multi-Purpose Cooperative, whose members complained against the alleged destruction to their crops.

The "Tinang 83" cited the same grounds in moving for her inhibition Friday.

“[T]he respondents in these cases find that the foregoing acts and omissions of the Hon. Provincial Prosecutor of Tarlac gave rise to the suspicion or appearance of partiality in favor of the private complainants. Thus, respondents are constrained to state that Prosecutor Montefalco should refrain from further conducting the preliminary investigation in these cases,” they said in the motion.

“Regardless of whether these doubts are unfounded or not, the fact still remains that these acts of the Acting Provincial Prosecutor impressed on the minds of the respondents her perceived partiality in favor of the complainants. This constitutes a sufficient ground for this Acting Provincial Prosecutor to inhibit herself from hearing this case,” they added.

"Tinang 83" members also cited the possible interference of a powerful Tarlac-based clan in the resolution of the complaints.

“[T]he Villanueva family, who owns huge shares of stocks in the private complainant TSNMPC, are politicians holding high positions in the Province of Tarlac. Mr. Vernon Villanueva who was the Barangay Captain of Tinang at that time when the agrarian dispute against the Respondent agrarian reform beneficiaries started, is presently a Provincial Board Member from the Third District of Tarlac Province. His son, Norman Villanueva, is the incumbent Barangay Captain of Brgy. Tinang. While Mr. Noel Villanueva, Vernon’s brother, is a congressman of the Third District of Tarlac, and incoming municipal mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac,” they said.

They have earlier accused the Villanueva family of being behind their arrests.

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Part of their motion is to ask for the transfer of the preliminary investigation at the DOJ National Prosecution Office in Manila.

Aside from asking for the dismissal and inhibition of the provincial prosecutor and the transfer of venue, charges against police officers are also being eyed by "Tinang 83" members, as well as administrative cases before the Office of the Ombudsman.