Release Joseph Canlas, stop the war on farmers and activists in PH

The Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) condemns the arbitrary arrest and detention of Filipino farmer leader Joseph Canlas. We enjoin the farmers and people of the Philippines in their call to release Canlas and demand for accountability of the Duterte administration on the ongoing crackdown on activists and progressives.  

We are appalled at the obviously trumped-up charges filed against Canlas. The relentless attacks on Filipino farmers must be put to an end and releasing Canlas along with hundreds of incarcerated land defenders should be the first step.  

Joseph Canlas is the current chairperson of Peasant Alliance of Central Luzon (AMGL). He is also the vice-chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the largest mass organization of farmers in the country and a member of PCFS, and the national vice-chairperson of Anakpawis Partylist, an incumbent political party representing farmers and workers.  

A staunch farmer activist for land reform and rural development, Canlas organized farmer strikes and marches for land distribution and peasant rights in Central Luzon and all over the country. He led campaigns against landgrabbing projects including the Bulacan Aerotropolis, Pampanga Megalopolis, and the Balog-balog Megadam among others. He also led Aetas and farmers in pushing back the 9,450-hectare Asian Development Bank-funded New Clark City, which would displace thousands of indigenous peoples in Capas, Tarlac in 2018.  

Since the pandemic, Canlas also joined and led the effort of activists in Central Luzon for COVID-19 awareness and relief operations for poor farmers and workers in the region. 

Needless to say, Canlas is a champion of the landless farmers and a bulwark of social activism in rural Luzon.  

A war on farmers, activists 

Troops of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) illegally arrested Canlas last Tuesday morning, March 30, at a nearby peasant community in Barangay Sapang Maisac, Mexico, Pampanga. He was detained hours after the same police forces raided the office of Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon(AMGL). Around the same time, union leader Pol Viuya, chairperson of Workers Alliance of Region 3Kilusang Mayo Uno, was also arrested in Bamban, Tarlac.  

Police reports accuse Canlas and Viuya of having firearms in their possession when their offices were raided.  

This orchestrated attack on activists happened just two days after union leader Dandy Miguel was slain in Barangay Canlubang, Calamba City, Laguna.  

Just weeks prior, similar simultaneous police raids of activists in Southern Tagalog resulted in what is now known as “Bloody Sunday”. Nine activists were killed by police forces on March 7,2021, including peasant activists Chai Lemita Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista of Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS-KA). Chai and Ariel’s son witnessed their execution in horror from his hiding spot.  

Today, at least 656 activists are political prisoners, 400 of which were arrested under the Duterte administration. Farmers and land defenders make up the vast majority of these, many of which have been in prison for more than a decade.  

Farmer arrests, killings, and massacres have now become rampant in the Philippines especially since Duterte took power, making it the most dangerous country for farmers and land activists. Since 2016, 323 farmers were killed and at least nine peasant massacres took place. The rural sector has been targeted primarily by the Duterte regime’s counter-insurgency, which is its priority in program and policy even amid the worsening pandemic situation in the country. 

Free the landless champion 

Joseph Canlas and his farmer organization AMGL were often subject to online and on-ground harassment from state forces. His face often shows up in posters tagging him as a combatant of the New Peoples’ Army to threaten him, a tactic known to many as red-tagging.  

Canlas’s arrest is but the latest and one of the biggest attacks on the Philippine peasant movement. It is despicable that farmer activists and land defenders are incarcerated, or worse, massacred left and right in a country mired with rural poverty and landlessness.  

Detaining Canlas and land reform activists like him on shaky grounds and planted evidence demonstrates the unwillingness of the Philippine government to address landlessness and rural poverty. It illustrates cowardice in the face of self-organizing farmers who, despite the challenges, are cultivating the pathways to just, equitable, healthy and sustainable food systems.  

We call on all our members, networks, and partners to stand with the Filipino farmers and call for the immediate and unconditional release of Joseph Canlas and other land defenders in the Philippines.  




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