Nov 29, 2020 @ 13:08

SC: Tribal chieftain can’t use Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act to avoid trial for child rape

The Supreme Court (SC) has reiterated that the criminal cases of indigenous peoples (IPs) fall under the jurisdiction of the regular trial courts, and that the respect accorded by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) to their communities’ mechanisms cannot shield them from criminal liability.

In a recent 10-page decision, the SC 2nd Division dismissed the petition for mandamus filed by Datu Malingin, also known as Lemuel Talingting, who identified himself as a chieftain of the Higaonon-Sugbuanon tribe.

Datu Malingin, who was charged with six counts of rape for allegedly abusing a 14-year old girl repeatedly, asked the SC to declare the Abuyog, Leyte, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 10 to have no jurisdiction to settle dispute involving IPs.

He claimed that Section 65 and 66 of the IPRA required that the criminal cases against him be resolved first through the indigenous group’s customary law and practices, which may then be elevated to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

He also asked the SC to order Prosecutor III Junery Baguinas to stop prosecuting cases involving IPs and find Police Officer (PO) 3 Arvin Sandagan, PO3 Estelito Avelino, and PO2 Noel Guimbaolibot guilty of arbitrary detention.

But, the SC said that while the IPRA “finds application in disputes relating to claims and rights of ICCs (indigenous cultural communities)/IPs,” this is not the case for criminal proceedings.

It stressed that crimes are not disputes among IPs, but are an “offense against the society” as a whole.

“Let it be underscored that petitioner’s indictment for Rape has nothing to do with his purported membership in an ICC, but by reason of his alleged acts that is covered by the RPC (Revised Penal Code)… Penal laws apply to individuals without regard to his or her membership in an ICC,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting.

The SC said customary laws and practices of IPs may only be invoked if they “are not in conflict with the legal system of the country” and “must not undermine the application of legislative enactments, including penal laws.”

It also noted that Datu Malingin’s case presented “substantially the same arguments” as those made by Ha Datu Tawahig, also known as Roderick Sumatra, who also identified himself as a Higaonon chieftain and was also charged with rape.

In its March 20, 2019 decision on Ha Datu Tawahig’s case, the SC set the precedent that membership in an indigenous group cannot hinder the filing of a criminal case against a person.

The SC concluded that Datu Malingin failed to prove any violation of his clear legal rights. It also said he did not prove that the court, the prosecutor and the police officers neglected to perform any ministerial duty.

“When the law requires and grants a public officer the right to decide on how he or she shall perform one’s duty, then he or she is vested with discretionary functions, as in the case of respondents,” the decision read.

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