Davao court acquits red-tagged IP leader of trafficking cases

Ian Laqui - Philstar.com
Davao court acquits red-tagged IP leader of trafficking cases
This photo shows tribal chieftain Datu Benito Bay-ao.
Released / Union of Peoples Lawyers-Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines — A court in Tagum City, Davao del Norte has dismissed the qualified trafficking cases of a tribal leader as the court granted his motion for demurrer to evidence.

In a decision dated June 21, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 2 in Tagum City, Davao del Norte granted the motion for the demurrer of indigenous peoples’ rights advocate Datu Benito Bay-ao as the “prosecution failed to establish the elements of the crime” being charged. 

“Glaringly, the prosecution failed to prove that the purpose of accused Bay-ao in accompanying the children to Cebu was for the exploitative purpose for them to join and engage in armed activities of the New People's Army but only as their guardian in their quest to continue their studies,” the court’s decision read.

A demurrer is a motion filed on the grounds that the evidence presented by the prosecutors is insufficient for a criminal conviction.

He was arrested in May 2021 on two human trafficking charges for escorting displaced Lumad children from Mindanao to a school for evacuees in Cebu City.

Following the court decision, the tribal chieftain was released from detention 

Bay-ao was accused by the government of having alleged ties with the New People’s Army (NPA).

The Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), who represented the tribal chieftain, has welcomed the RTC's decision.

“The court's dismissal of the charges is a testament to Datu Bay-ao’s innocence and the strength of the evidence, or lack thereof, presented against him. We are pleased that justice has prevailed,” Arvin Lopoz, one of the chieftain’s lawyers, said in a statement.

“We are honored to have represented Datu Bay-ao and contributed to this just outcome,” lawyer Jilianne Ampog also said.

The UPLM previously secured the acquittal of another group, which included Lumad school volunteer teacher Lerma Lawian, her husband Jeffrey, and students Ismael and Mawing Pangadas.
This was also won through a demurrer to evidence motion.

Bay-ao’s co-accused in the case include the slain Lumad volunteer school teachers Chad Booc and Gelijurain Ngujo II who were killed in an alleged encounter between soldiers and the NPA in New Bataan, Davao de Oro, in February 2022.

According to Save Our Schools Network, which has been helping Lumad community schools in Mindanao, the volunteer teacher Booc and his group were returning to Davao City from research work when they were killed.

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