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Lanao del Norte Mayor found guilty of grave coercion

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By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki

Kauswagan Mayor Rommel Arnado of Lanao del Norte has been found guilty of three counts of grave coercion by the Sandiganbayan First Division since he forced several individuals to leave their homes back on October 21, 2013.

He was sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of six months of arresto mayor as minimum to three years and six months of prison correccional as maximum for each count.

In the charge sheets filed against him, Arnado was accused of violating Article 266 of the Revised Penal Code because he prevented Ibra Sambuat, Osama Sambuat, and Farhana Sambuat from having shelter because he forced them from their homes.

Arnado, together with co-accused Rey Camanian, Lauro Diputado and seven John Does, entered and took control of the land of the Sambuats. They not only demolished their shelters, but also took their materials.

Camanian and Diputado remain at large, so the cases against them were ordered archived. Meanwhile, Arnado proceeded to trial.

What the anti-graft court discovered is that the Sambuats were prevented from staying in their property even though they have the certificate of title in their possession.

The Sambuats even testified that Arnado’s group, all members of the Civil Service Unit (CSU) of the Philippine National Police (PNP), threatened to kill anyone who entered. These armed individuals carried knives, bara de cabra, and side arms, while the Sambuats were unarmed.

For his part, Arnado testified that he made his own inquiry regarding the true owner of the disputed lot. He learned from the office of the municipal assessor that there was a certificate of sale and tax declaration in favor of the group of Henry Dy.

Because of this knowledge, Arnado and his group trooped to the property in question. However, the anti-graft court noted that the Sambuats did not just randomly choose to enter the property. They did so under the assertion that the property belongs to them. To support this, the Sambuats produced the certificate of title in the name of Heirs of Sambuat.

But for the court, it is important to note that the entire property was private land. “It was not for the office of the mayor, the CSU nor the police to decide on their own who the real owners of the subject property are, without any directive from the proper courts,” the decision stated.

“The said government offices cannot summarily remove the structures and force the Sambuats to leave the premises. If at all, the CSU members and the police personnel can maintain peace and order just by their mere presence, ensuring that no violence will erupt, without having to dismantle the properties and shelters of the Sambuats,” it added.

What further pinned Arnado down was his “perfunctory attitude” in the aftermath of each incident, since he did not make any effort to mend or mitigate the damage caused by the destruction over the Sambuats’ properties.

“Indeed, no amount of denial could save the day for the accused when he himself admitted during the pre-trial conference his participation in the removal of complainants’ shelters or dwellings, thereby depriving them peaceful settlement in the disputed properties,” the court ruled.

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