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Human rights coalition condemns arrest of PH relief volunteers

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Human rights coalition condemns arrest of PH relief volunteers
Farmers helping farmers relief drive

ICHRP appeals for an end to the harassments of Filipino civilians

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.#