For more than four years now, peasant leader Alexander “Ka Alex” Arias, 61, has continued to suffer cruel and unwarranted detention, compounded by the snail's pace of justice in the Philippines.
Ka Alex was arrested on April 7, 2012, right after attending a meeting of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines or KMP) in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. The motorcycle he was riding on was suddenly blocked by combined elements of the 1st Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army and the Southern Tagalog Regional Intelligence Unit of the Philippine National Police (PNP). He was immediately brought to a military safehouse. 

For three days and nights, he was blindfolded and handcuffed, and made to suffer non-stop interrogation. Lawyers, his relatives, and human rights workers were denied access to Ka Alex. 

Several days later, he was presented with charges of kidnapping and murder, and was falsely implicated in a May 2007 attack by the New People's Army (NPA) against government armed forces in Mauban, Quezon. Ka Alex insisted that, during that time he was out of the country, attending an international peasant solidarity conference. But his explanations fell into deaf ears.

After a year, his case was transferred to the Taguig City Regional Trial Court. A motion to dismiss, filed by his lawyer, was denied. Four years later, on May 23, 2016, he was arraigned on the said case.

Involvement in peasant and fisherfolk organizations and struggles

A native of Liliw, Laguna, and the eldest son of eight siblings, Ka Alex came from a poor peasant family. All throughout his life, small-scale farming has been the main source of his family's livelihood. 

He became active in the peasants' struggle for genuine agrarian reform in the province, and became one of the stalwarts in the campaign against land-use conversion and rampant cuttings of coconut trees for coco lumber, that have been destroying the major sources of the peasants' livelihood in Hacienda Yulo. He also became a fisherfolk organizer in nearby communities around Laguna de Bay, and co-founded the Save Laguna Lake Movement.

In 2004, Alex became the chairman of Pagkakaisa at Ugnayan ng mga Magbubukid sa Laguna (Unity of Farmers in Laguna or PUMALAG), a local chapter of KMP.

Arias often represented PUMALAG in different local and national fora, conferences and mass mobilizations in the past four regimes. He also attended peasant fora and conferences abroad, sponsored by different peasant organizations in Asia, including those held in Malaysia (2003), Indonesia (2007), and Bangladesh (2008). In fact, he was one of the co-delegates of then KMP chairman (now newly appointed Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary) Rafael "Ka Paeng" Mariano, when they attended an international peasant conference in Nepal in 2008.

Victim of political persecution

Being a peasant activist, Alex is no longer a rookie, when it comes to harassment and surveillance by fascist state forces. During the Corazon Aquino regime, he was placed in an "order of battle" by the military. Alex was also one of the survivors of the 1987 Mendiola massacre, where 17 protesters calling for land reform were cruelly beaten up and shot to death by state military and police forces.

In 2001, when Arias became chairperson of the Peasant Alliance in Laguna (PALAG) in District 2, Alex became one of the prime targets of manhunt operations by state military forces, in implementation of the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya in Southern Tagalog. Several of his colleagues in PALAG were killed by fascist minions of then Col. Jovito “The Butcher” Palparan, among them peasant leaders Leon Mercurio and Boy Romero. Palparan was then the commanding officer of 202nd brigade of Philippine Army and head of the "Task Force Banahaw," the implementing arm of the AFP in Laguna that soon extended operations to the entire Southern Tagalog region.

There were also several incidents when Alex was noticeably monitored and tailed by state intelligence operatives, especially during mass rallies and peasant fora in Southern Tagalog and Metro Manila.

Series of arrests and detention

Prior to his recent arrest and detention, Alex was first arrested and detained in 1991, supposedly on the basis of a trumped-up case of murder filed against him. After a year and a half, the case was dismissed because supposed witnesses, who gave false and conflicting testimonies in court, were not able to identify Alex in court.

In 2009, there was another crude attempt at filing recycled trumped-up charges against 72 advocates of the peasant movement in Southern Tagalog, including Alex and several other mass leaders, who then became known as "ST 72". Progressive lawyer dedicated labor leader, Remigio Saladero Jr., was also one of the targets and was among those unjustly imprisoned due to the said case. The case against the ST 72 was eventually dismissed in 2012. 

Appeal for freedom 

Alex's siblings and many others who know and fully support him, are hoping that the new Duterte government will soon release him and all other political prisoners in the country. In a letter, his sister, Elvie, appealed to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to order the prosecutor to drop the false charges against Alex and consider Alex's poor health condition. Arias has Type II diabetes and, before his imprisonment, was frequently hospitalized).

Alex is optimistic on the resumption of the formal peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, including matters related to genuine agrarian reform and other urgent and fundamental socio-economic and political agenda. He is hopeful that all political prisoners like him will be released, so he and other peasant leaders may soon be able to continue their work devoted to the exploited and oppressed masses of the Filipino people.#

(Article contributed by Joseph Cuevas, political prisoner currently detained at the Special Intensive Care Area 1 Jail, Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, 28 July 2016)