Farmers, activists arrested in Tarlac 'bungkalan' set to undergo inquest proceedings


MANILA, Philippines — Farmers and peasant advocates arrested in Concepcion, Tarlac on Thursday are expected to go through inquest proceedings on Friday, the 34th anniversary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

The activists, cultural workers, and agrarian reform beneficiaries were doing 'bungkalan' — cultivation work — on a piece of disputed land in Hacienda Tinang in Concepcion, Tarlac when they were visited by police officers. The cops were even accompanied by Rep. Noel Villanueva, mayor-elect of Concepcion, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said. 

Videos posted by peasant advocate groups show PNP personnel pulling members of the group away. At least 87 farmers and peasant advocates — some of them students from the University of the Philippines — were eventually arrested without warrant and charged with malicious mischief and obstruction of justice.

The 87 have been held at Concepcion Police Station in Tarlac for the past 18 hours, KMP said, and slept on cold floors lined with cardboard and plastic bags.

Farmers with local group Makisama-Tinang which represents agrarian reform beneficiaries said that a Certificate of Land Ownership Award title for the 200-hectare disputed land has already been awarded to 236 CARP beneficiaries since 1995 but claimed that the latter was hidden from them. 

"We are the legitimate beneficiary of the land. All we want is to clear the sugarcane field so that we can grow vegetables for our families to eat. If we don't plant, we will starve to death because of the very high price of goods in the country," exclaimed Felino Cunanan Jr., one of the leaders of Makasama-Tinang who was also arrested.

In a statement, peasant advocacy group National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates-Youth condemned what they said was the 'biggest mass arrest' of farmers and peasant advocates under the Duterte administration.

"We are indignant with the blatant violence and lawlessness employed by police forces. We vehemently condemn the harassment and baseless mass arrest that farmers and advocates experienced at the hands of state forces," said Melo Cabello, NNARA-Youth National Spokesperson. 

“The police have no authority to stop the legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries from reclaiming the land that is rightfully theirs,” said the peasant advocate. 

The Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo also said that the police officer asked volunteers: "Bakit kayo pumupunta dito? Bakit hindi nyo kasama ang mga magulang nyo? Bakit nakikisawsaw kayo sa problema dito?"

(Why are you coming here? Why aren't you with your parents? Why are you adding to the problem here?)

"We ask, when has it ever been wrong to unite with others? Why don't the police want young people to interfere?" SAKA said in a tweet in Filipino.

Local police claim farmers were destroying property

In a spot report sent to reporters, Police Regional Office 3 claimed that the farmers "demolished the sugarcane plantation owned by Agriculture Cooperative," though it is unclear what kind of damage the collective land preparation activity could have done to the land. 

"When responding personnel [...] tried to pacify them, they became unruly and tried to obstruct the law enforcers from performing their official duties," PRO3 said. 

Police Brig. Gen. Matthew Baccay, Central Luzon PNP regional director, said that "while the police acted on their mandated task, continuous investigation is being carried out to ascertain the facts of the incident."

Under Rule 113, Section 5 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, a person may be arrested without a warrant when an offense has just been committed and the person making the arrest has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it, also known as a hot pursuit arrest.

The PNP Human Rights Affairs Office's procedures for warrantless arrests provide that arresting officers should use only reasonable force or a nonlethal weapon to restrain the suspect. Cops are also required at all times to inform the arrested person of the circumstances of his arrest and recite the Miranda Warning & Anti-Torture Warning. It is unclear if police complied with this. 

"No unnecessary force shall be used in making the arrest...When armed resistance subsides, the police officer must cautiously approach the suspect and apprehend him," the procedures read. 

Franco Luna  

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