Amid pandemic: Relief ops volunteers detained in PH; int’l coalition demands release

An international group for rural people’s rights called on the Philippine government to release the six volunteers of Sagip Kanayunan (Save the Countryside) and their paralegal apprehended yesterday in Norzagaray, Bulacan province. The Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) said there is no valid excuse to detain relief efforts, especially for the underserved rural areas.

The volunteers were on their way to distribute relief goods to agricultural workers affected by the Luzon-wide lockdown when they were arrested, according to a statement from Sagip Kanayunan convenor Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP; Peasant Movement of the Philippines). Their paralegal who responded to the arrest was also apprehended. They are currently detained at the Norzagaray Police Station.

“What is wrong with helping the marginalized communities amid this pandemic? Only a heartless government would obstruct perfectly legitimate relief efforts of CSOs and incarcerate their volunteers,” the coalition commented.

The vehicle was flagged down in Barangay Bigte around 10 a.m. yesterday. KMP noted that authorities seized their goods and the ‘pass’ they use for their bagsakan project – a direct farmer-to-consumer delivery initiative that has been ongoing since the lockdown declaration. Moreover, due process was disregarded in carrying out the arrest.

The arrested included a farmer and four members of international organization Youth for Food Sovereignty, while the paralegal was a former legislator of Anakpawis Partylist that represented the rural sector in the country. They were charged with inciting to sedition and violating the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act,” a law which concerns the reporting of “notifiable diseases and health events of public concern as issued” by the national health department.

Police alleged that the relief goods have “pamphlets, magazines and other reading materials containing subversive contents” and that the Philippine National Police “will continue to be relentless in [the] campaign against terrorism and insurgency.” The KMP, however, condemned the red-tagging and said that these reading materials – an organizational newsletter, a news periodical, and a primer on COVID-19 – were far from illegal and can be easily accessed online.

“It’s a shame that, even with the viral pandemic, this government chooses to terrorize its CSOs with red-tagging and warrantless arrests,” according to PCFS.

The coalition also raised concern on the militarist approach of the president of the Philippines in response to the pandemic, citing yesterday’s confirmation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that it is gearing for a martial law-like implementation of the enhanced community quarantine.

“The Duterte administration has been consistent in violating people’s rights and resorting to militarization even in confronting a global health crisis such as this pandemic. We appeal to realign state priorities by focusing on medical solutions and providing aid to the vulnerable sectors instead of repressing and demonizing independent efforts that only want to help,” said the PCFS.

KMP is a member organization of the PCFS. ###

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