The Asia-Pacific Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (APCHRP) strongly condemns the wrongful arrest of seven individuals delivering relief goods to poor households in Norzagay, Bulacan.
On the morning of the 19th of April, a jeepney carrying relief goods was stopped at a police checkpoint in the town of Norzagay. Volunteers from Tulong Anakpawis and Sagip Kanayunan were scheduled to distribute this humanitarian assistance to members of the urban poor and peasant community affected by the COVID-19 enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
Seven volunteers, including the driver of the jeepney, were brought to the Norzagay Municipal Police Station for questioning. These individuals were never given a reason why they were being questioned, or any explanation as to why they were apprehended in the first place.
At around 12:30 p.m., former Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao arrived at the police station to negotiate the release of the volunteers. The relief goods were turned over to the Barangay Bigte office and will be turned over by barangay officials instead.
While the apprehended relief volunteers were momentarily released upon the intervention of Rep. Casilao, they were later called back to the police station – again without any offense or violation committed.
Former Rep. Casilao says of the incident: “This is harassment, plain and simple. We have no violations. The police also can’t justify why they are refusing to release our volunteers. We are in a crisis situation. Now is not the time to prosecute activists and cause oriented groups who are engaged in humanitarian and relief efforts.”
APCHRP strongly condemns the unjust detention of seven relief volunteers, whose only aim was to distribute much-needed humanitarian assistance to impoverished residents hit hard by the ECQ restrictions.
At a time when the Duterte government and other local government units are evidently failing the people with uneven distribution of relief goods and delays in in the disbursement of cash assistance, they need to encourage – not harass – private organizations who want to help.
This is also not the first time that state brutality featured during the COVID-19 pandemic under the Duterte regime. It can be remembered that 21 residents of Sitio San Roque, Quezon City were violently dispersed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) after demanding for food assistance from their local government.
President Duterte himself recently told law enforcement officials who encounter protesters to “shoot them dead”. These people are protesting because they have not been given the food and monetary assistance promised to them by the government. Their livelihoods have been affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and have no other means to sustain themselves or their families.
Rather than showing compassion and expediting relief assistance, the Duterte regime has instead resorted to grave threats against them. In fact, the administration has threatened to impose “martial law” style lockdown by bringing in the military and elite police forces to crackdown on those who do not abide by the ECQ rules.
APCHRP calls for the immediate release of the seven volunteers and an end to the harassment of relief volunteers and activists. Rather than senselessly cracking down on activists and relief volunteers, the Duterte government should instead turn their attention to expedite the distribution of humanitarian assistance to impoverished families. ###