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Kidapawan protesters cleared of assault in violent 2016 dispersal

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES NEWS • 05:30 AM Wed May 24, 2023
Benjamin Pulta
CALM BEFORE THE STORM. Police and protesters face off before a violent clash outside a church in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato on April 1, 2016. The protesters, mostly farmers who were demanding assistance, were cleared of assault charges by a Kidapawan

MANILA – The Kidapawan municipal trial court in North Cotabato has cleared 43 individuals of assault in connection with a violent clash between police and demonstrators in 2016 as the prosecution failed to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The court granted the demurrer to evidence filed by the defense and dismissed the direct assault case against the accused, who were represented by lawyer Ester Escobidal-Vega of the Public Attorney’s Office.

“As 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,” read the 21-page decision of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities dated May 18 and made public Tuesday.

In a statement, PAO said the “decision proves that justice will flow like a river in our country.”

On March 29 to April 1, 2016, demonstrations were held in front of the National Food Authority and outside a methodist church along Quezon Boulevard, both in Kidapawan City, by militant groups.

The protesters sought the release of 15,000 sacks of rice supposedly promised by then-North Cotabato governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza after more than 300,000 hectares of agricultural land was affected by the El Niño drought.

On the fourth day of the mass action on April 1, the police and firefighters were ordered to clear the highway after a five-minute ultimatum, with protesters resisting by throwing rocks at law enforcers.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) reported then that nearly 100 officers were injured, including one who was confined at the intensive care unit of the Kidapawan Doctors Hospital with severe head injuries.

On the other hand, protesters claimed theirs were peaceful assemblies that were disrupted when the police dispersal started outside the church.

Two were killed on the side of the protesters.

PNP-12 relieved two of its top officers in the province during the investigation. (PNA)

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