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Rights group slams arrest of activists during COVID-19 relief operations

/ 10:34 PM April 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights group Karapatan slammed on Sunday the arrest of activists who were on the way to hand relief goods in Bulacan, saying that this showed the anti-people stance of the current administration.

In a statement, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that it appeared the government was more concerned with going after activists rather than solving the problems that emerged amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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On Sunday, party-list group Bayan Muna revealed that several individuals, including former Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao, were arrested in a police checkpoint at Norzagaray, Bulacan.

The activists, who were from Tulong Anakpawis, Sagip Kanayunan, were supposed to bring aid to farmers affected by the lockdown.

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“Instead of heeding calls for mass testing and fast-tracking of socioeconomic relief in vulnerable communities, the government seems to be more preoccupied with arresting critics and activists — even those who are working to distribute humanitarian aid in underserved communities affected by the lockdown measures to curb the pandemic,” Palabay said.

Karapatan said that the activists were “blatantly red-tagged” by police personnel as members of the New People’s Army (NPA).  They also claimed that the relief packs were confiscated by the authorities, along with various pamphlets and copies of an alternative media site’s print version.

In a message to INQUIRER.net, the Bulacan Police Provincial Office confirmed that Casilao was among those arrested, but did not divulge any other information on the issue.

Karapatan’s statement also condemned the arrest of Cebu poet and scriptwriter Maria Victoria Beltran for her alleged role in spreading misinformation about the latest coronavirus strain.

The arrest of Beltran came after Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella threatened to sue her for supposedly spreading lies. Labella was referring to Beltran’s post saying that there were already over 9,000 new COVID-19 cases in Sitio Zapatera in Cebu.

She is currently facing charges in relation to the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

“We urgently call for the immediate release of Ka Ayik and the volunteers from Tulong Anakpawis and Sagip Kanayunan who are being unjustly detained on baseless accusations. We also strongly demand that the cybercrime case lodged against Beltran be junked,” Palabay said.

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“As we all work on efforts to aid the vulnerable and the marginalized, we will also not stop in calling out the government’s incompetence and in demanding a response that comprehensively addresses the plight of the people,” she added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) confirmed the existence of an internal memo that within the Philippine Air Force that describes a martial-law like rule — after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to implement stricter rules due to a numerous violation of travel restrictions.

However, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo clarified that it was only for the “purpose of providing advance information to give guidance to personnel — in this case the PAF”.

Earlier, Malacañang sought more details on alleged human rights violations within local government units, saying that institutions are committed to upholding the rights of people.

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TAGS: arrested activists, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, Cristina Palabay, Karapatan, Luzon quarantine, Maria Victoria Beltran, Mayor Edgardo Labella, relief operations
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