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Cops file rap vs antipork protesters

/ 09:46 PM October 14, 2013

SURIGAO CITY—The illegal assembly case slapped against hundreds of antipork barrel protesters here has drawn criticisms and suspicions that the charge was politically motivated.

In filing the case on Oct. 2, the local police accused the Sept. 21 protesters of violating City Ordinance No. 245, which designates areas where rallies may be held. Police said the protesters, composed of local civil society and progressive groups, held their rally on a major road near the public market, instead of the designated place in a public park.

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Named respondents are City Councilors Baltazar Abian and Jose Begil, Bayan Muna coordinator Edgar Canda and scores of John and Jane Does.

Powerful hands were behind the case, said Abian and Begil, known critics of Surigao City Mayor Ernesto T. Matugas.

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They noted that their protest centered on the pork barrel controversy involving the mayor’s brother, Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco T. Matugas (1st district).

Abian and Begil also said Mayor Matugas failed to respond to their request for a permit to use the city’s public park as a venue for the protest—forcing them to hold it on the streets instead.

The respondents said the protest, which featured the burning of an effigy of a pig that symbolized the pork barrel, must have ruffled the feathers of the Matugases.

Protesters also signed a petition asking the Ombudsman to act on the complaint for plunder against Representative Matugas, as well as the pending graft cases against the congressman’s wife, Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol Matugas, and Mayor Matugas.

They then chanted “Kawatan sa Kongresso, ipapreso!” (Jail the thieves in Congress).

Abian and Begil’s colleague, Councilor Fernando Almeda III, came to their defense, describing the illegal assembly case “an assault on democratic rights.”

“What makes it more despicable is that threat or curtailment comes from the very same officials who are supposed to assure our people that these rights may and can be exercised,” Almeda said in a privilege speech.

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“Whoever is the genius behind this abhorrent idea should be instructed that the felony of illegal assembly penalized under Article 146 of the Revised Penal Code can be committed in two ways. First, when the meeting is attended by armed persons for the purpose of committing crimes, and second, when the audience whether armed or not, is incited to the commission of the crimes of treason, rebellion, insurrection, sedition or direct assault,” he pointed out.

Almeda stressed that none of these conditions were present because it was a peaceful assembly.

He warned that the police may face administrative charges before the Ombudsman.

The Matugas brothers did not reply when asked for their comment.

Representative Matugas is facing a plunder case based on the Commission on Audit  report that said he had earmarked some P64 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund  as intelligence funds for local government officials. Danilo V. Adorador III, Inquirer Mindanao

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