A local court has cleared 43 farmers who were accused of assaulting police officers at a protest in Kidapawan City in April 2016, when they gathered in the capital of Cotabato province to seek food assistance in the face of a five-month drought.
Kidapawan City Municipal Trial Court in Cities Presiding Judge Rebecca Elena De Leon granted the demurrer filed by the farmers and dismissed the charge of direct assault upon an agent of a person in authority against them “for insufficiency of evidence.”
A demurrer to evidence is a challenge to the prosecution evidence. When granted, it paves way for the dismissal of the case without the accused needing to present their defense.
The court held: “[A]s the prosecution has clearly failed to discharge its burden of overcoming the presumption of innocence of the accused by proving their guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the Court holds that it finds the evidence insufficient for their conviction with no recourse other than to dismiss the case which is tantamount to a judgment of acquittal.”
In the charge sheet filed before the court, the farmers were accused of “unlawfully and feloniously” attacking police officers and fire officers “by throwing stones on them, thus causing them to suffer physical injuries on the different parts of their bodies” during a rally on April 1, 2016.
Thousands of farmers blocked stretches of the Cotabato-Davao Highway in Kidapawan City in April 2016 to demand government action on the hunger stalking their communities as a result of a five-month drought in Cotabato province.
Authorities estimated at least 5,000 farmers joined the rally, with some of them picketing the provincial office of the National Food Authority in Kidapawan City.
April 1 was the fourth day of the rally and police gave protesters five minutes to disperse and to clear the highway for vehicles.
The dispersal was marred by shots from the police side and stones from the protesters. The violence led to the death of two farmers and left more than a hundred others injured.
The incident prompted a Senate hearing as well as an investigation by the Commission on Human Rights, which said that both sides engaged in violence.
Failure to prove identity
In a ruling promulgated May 18 but made public only on Tuesday, the court said: “Here, while there is no dispute that the complaining law enforcers were hit with stones thrown at them by the protesters on April 1, 2016, the prosecution utterly failed to prove the identity of the persons responsible for the acts complained of.”
It pointed out that testimonies from the dozens of witnesses presented only told how the accused ended up arrested: That there was an altercation between the officers and protesters and that a mob of thousands threw stones at them “and finally, the officers arrested protesters without certainty as to whether the stone-throwing was definitely committed by the ones who were arrested.”
The court pointed out that, in the specific case, the prosecution’s evidence showed that police witnesses did not see who threw stones at them but “arrested protesters who they could conveniently apprehend at that time.”
While the prosecution argued that the accused were in conspiracy with the offenders in throwing stones at the police, the court said “this argument deserves scant consideration” as evidence must still be presented to prove the supposed conspiracy. — with reports from The STAR/Edu Punay, John Unson
Source : Philstar