The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) vehemently condemned the weekend arrest of seven volunteers for a relief operation in Norzagaray, 50 kilometers away from country’s capital, Manila, as baseless. The incident happened last April 19 as police apprehended the volunteers’ vehicle carrying relief goods for hungry and displaced peasants.
“We are appalled by how the Philippine government treats relief volunteers in this time of a global pandemic. The recent arrest of seven civilians whose only intent is to help their fellow farmers affected by the crisis is a testament to this,” says ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy.
One of the seven arrested was former lawmaker Ariel Casilao who negotiated their release with the police so that they may turn over the goods for distribution. Moments later the volunteers were called back and detained again in the station.
According to a statement from the Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP), the authorities were unable to give any justification for the arrest. “We have been conducting relief operations since the first week of the lockdown. We have secured the necessary food pass and permits, we are wearing face masks, and observing physical distancing. The information materials that we are distributing are based on the latest data from the DOH and the WHO. What violation could the police possibly accuse us of?”, one of the detained farmer leader Redo Pena asked.
Still, Casilao and his team will be charged for violating quarantine protocols according to a recent government response. They claimed that they “conducted an unauthorized travel outside of Metro Manila and attempted to organize a mass gathering in Norzagaray, Bulacan in the guise of distributing relief goods.”
“We are appealing to the Philippine authorities to release the volunteers and abandon the militarist approach the pandemic, which is a health crisis. Instead, they should work with organisations which try to help people cope with the pandemic,” says Murphy.
Also arrested on the same day was film writer Maria Victoria Beltran over a Facebook post she made in relation to the coronavirus. According to authorities Beltran was charged with violating the Cybercrime Law.
ICHRP, earlier this month, called for an end to the Philippine government’s repressive measures to enable the Filipino people to maximise their capacity to deal with the crisis.
Former Anakpawis party-list Representative Ariel Casilao and volunteers of the leftist group have undergone inquest proceedings on Monday for alleged violation of the guidelines of the enhanced community quarantine after the group’s alleged “unauthorized” travel to Bulacan to bring relief goods.
According to the Norzagaray Police, Casilao and the volunteers had undergone e-inquest proceedings around 11 a.m. at the municipal police station where they are presently detained.
In a statement, Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Police Brigadier General Bernard Banac said Casilao and the six Anakpawis members are facing complaints for alleged violations of Section 9 of Republic Act No. 11332; Executive Order No. 922; Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code (Disobedience); and Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code for conspiracy to commit sedition.
“It is terribly disturbing that this organization which styles itself as pro-people advocates of public welfare will rather promote its anti-government ideology at the expense of public health during this critical period of a national health crisis,” Banac said.
“It is a matter of life or death that we need to make this quarantine work, but incidents of quarantine violation like this make containment efforts against the virus less effective and detrimental to public health,” he added.
Meanwhile, Banac said Casilao is also facing complaints for alleged usurpation of authority under Article177 of the Revised Penal Code as he allegedly misrepresented himself as the party-list representative for Anakpawis.
“Casilao is not a member of the 18th Congress as he claimed himself to be when he tried to intercede on behalf of the arrested Anakpawis members,” Banac said.
The six Anakpawis members were onboard a jeepney when it was flagged down by authorities in Barangay Bigte, Norzagaray. Police claimed the group had failed to show pertinent documents that will prove their relief operation is authorized.
“Upon visual inspection, the cargo contained anti-government flyers, printed materials and tarpaulins with suggestive slogans that promote the political ideology of Anakpawis, the electoral wing of the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno and Kilusang Mangbubukid ng Pilipinas,” Banac said.
Meanwhile, the relief goods were still distributed to residents in the area./Stacy Ang