Karapatan calls for release of youth peasant organizer in Negros

Photo from Kabataan Partylist - Negros

Following the recent arrest of community doctor and human rights worker Dr. Maria Natividad “Naty” Castro, human rights alliance Karapatan called for the release of youth peasant organizer Harlyn Balora, who was arrested in a raid in Negros Occidental last Saturday, February 19, 2022. With the country set to commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power uprising, Karapatan Secretary General said that the recent arrests of Balora and Dr. Castro are reminiscent of the Marcos dictatorship.

“We join the calls for the immediate release of Harlyn Balora. Standing with the struggle of farmers for land and justice is not a crime. It is concerning that her arrest — along with the arrest of Dr. Naty just a day before her — came just days before we commemorate People Power uprising, especially since their arrests are eerily reminiscent of the horrors of martial law under the Marcos dictatorship. Clearly, these horrors are being revived by the Duterte administration even in its last months in power,” Palabay stated.

Balora is the chairperson of Anakbayan’s regional chapter in Negros. She was arrested by an estimated 500 police and military, reportedly without warrant and according to witnesses’ accounts, soldiers and policemen in full battle gear and long firearms illegally raided four houses in the community of Sitio Montara, Brgy. Camang-Camang, Isabela, Negros Occidental, including Balora’s, without presenting any search or arrest warrant.

The police dragged Balora outside her family’s house even as she said that they have no right to arrest her. They choked her to keep her quiet and gripped her hands, and as she continued to protest, she was punched by one of the personnel in plainclothes, and another groped her arms while hurling sexual innuendos at her. Shortly after, two uniformed police approached Balora, and one of them frisked her and planted beside her a bag with a bullet while a soldier placed a gun by her side.

Palabay said that “Balora’s arrest is an obvious overkill. 500 elements of the police and military to raid a small community and just to arrest a 26-year old woman? We condemn the terror that they brought upon the community of Sitio Montara and demand an investigation on the said raid — especially the brazen physical violence and revolting sexual harassment against Balora while she was being arrested along with the planting of evidence against her.”

The police and military elements allegedly carried a search warrant for a certain Romeo Nanta. Instead, they arrested Balora and charged her with trumped-up cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and violation of the Commission on Elections’ (COMELEC) gun ban. The Karapatan official, however, asserted that “it must be the policemen and soldiers who illegally arrested Balora that should be charged with violations of COMELEC’s gun ban, especially as they sow terror in communities even during the election period.”

“With the national elections fast approaching, the Duterte administration’s fascist attacks on people’s rights — especially against activists and human rights defenders — have not ceased, and it is deplorable that this spate of arrests come days before we commemorate the overthrow of a fascist dictatorship. We call on candidates and all freedom-loving Filipinos to condemn the recent arrests of Harlyn Balora and Dr. Naty Castro and to join the calls for their release and the dropping of the trumped-up charges against them,” she ended.