Malilong: A puzzlement

IN the video of the confrontation between Mayor Tomas Osmeña and sheriff El Cid Caballes last Wednesday, the mayor can be heard asking the court employee if he had a technical description. As he would explain later, Osmeña was trying to make sure that Caballes and his men would adhere strictly to the court’s decision and not touch those houses that were not involved in the litigation.

Osmeña’s point is correct. It is a basic principle in procedural law that in enforcing a judgment, you cannot vary its terms. If the decision orders the clearing of Lot A, the sheriff has no business going after the occupants of Lot B.

Caballes is without doubt aware of this rule. He is NOT a greenhorn but an old hand in the business with hundreds of experience in the enforcement of writs of execution tucked under his belt. He knows how steep the price he has to pay if he commits any infraction.

Obviously, he had no technical description with him when he went to the area to be cleared. But did that not necessarily mean that he did not know what he was doing and where he was going? I was told that he had been there before for the same reason and came back only to eject the last holdouts, including those who had reportedly accepted disturbance payment from the new landowner and vacated the area but came back and built new structures.

Besides, if Osmeña was concerned that Caballes would stray from his mandate by demolishing the houses that were built on a lot owned by the national government, he could have stopped the latter immediately. He was there, he could call the police anytime and more importantly, the hundreds of residents who were milling around him had his back.

It is unfortunate that he did not give Caballes the chance to show what he was going to do and where. He blocked his way and even shoved the court papers away when the sheriff attempted to present them to him. Osmeña had made up his mind: he did not want the court order implemented. Period.

He is now challenging everyone to sue him: Caballes, the judge who issued the writ and the people who will benefit from clearing the land of informal settlers. Caballes has already declared that he did not want to sue while the court has remained silent, apparently waiting for the sheriff’s report or return of service.

It is the silence of the landowners that is deafening. Who are they? They’re the ones who are most affected by Osmeña’s defiance but they have not said a word so far. Their names are not even mentioned in the news reports, which is a lamentable journalistic failing. Surely, the court records of the case are available; has any reporter bothered to look into them?

In yesterday’s issue of SunStar Cebu, the mayor claimed the existence of “a very anomalous, if not fraudulent attempt to steal land” in relation to Wednesday’s incident. Like everyone else, he did not name names though.

To quote The King and I, ‘tis a puzzlement.
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