Court clears 43 farmers accused of attacking authorities during 2016 Kidapawan rally

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 23) — A Kidapawan City court has dismissed the case against 43 farmers accused of assaulting authorities in April 2016, during the violent dispersal of thousands of protesters demanding government relief and subsidy.

In granting the farmers’ demurrer to evidence, the Municipal Trial Court in Kidapawan said the prosecution failed to sufficiently establish who hurled stones at law enforcers.

It ruled that police witnesses did not actually see the people who assaulted them but arrested protesters “who they could conveniently apprehend at the time.”

“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 decision dated May 18 and made public on Tuesday.

Sixty-one farmers were charged for direct assault over the incident which hogged the headlines after it left at least two protesters dead and dozens of people injured. However, the court said that upon arraignment, only 43 appeared and pleaded not guilty.

The farm workers were gravely affected by the dry spell in North Cotabato and joined a rally along Quezon Boulevard in Kidapawan City from March 29 to April 1, 2016 to call for the immediate release of calamity aid from the local government.

Members of the Philippine National Police and fire officers were tasked to secure the area.

The prosecution said authorities were ordered on April 1 to “engage” with protesters after they gave the latter a five-minute ultimatum to disperse and clear the highway.

It maintained that the demonstration was illegal and said that as officers moved forward, the farmers resisted by throwing stones at them.

Progressive groups, on the other hand, had maintained that police officers opened fire at the protesters.

In a statement, the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) – which filed the accused’s demurrer to evidence – lauded the court’s ruling, saying justice has been served to the farmers.

“This decision proves that justice will flow like a river in our country as the PAO and its poor clients are waiting for swift and just victories for the Filipino people,” PAO chief Atty. Persida Acosta said.