Karapatan presses for humanitarian, just release of peasant leader Joseph Canlas

Detained peasant leader Joseph Canlas, 59, vice chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and chairperson of the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon, was brought to the Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital in San Fernando, Pampanga on Saturday, May 8, and to the Intensive Care Unit of the said hospital on May 9, Sunday, morning, after he experienced difficulty in breathing at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) detention center in Angeles City.

Today, Canlas reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, as per the antigen test, as he continues to be in critical condition with low oxygen saturation level despite being intubated and connected to a mechanical ventilator. He has diabetes and hypertension — both comorbidities of COVID-19.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said Canlas’ condition can be attributed to his unjust arrest and detention, such that subjecting him to jail conditions made him more vulnerable to the deadly virus.

“If persecuting people for exercising political dissent by putting them in jail over trumped-up charges and having them contract COVID-19 behind bars is this murderous regime’s way of curbing the deadly virus, then its pandemic response is not only a failure: it is brazenly weaponizing the public health emergency against its activists, political dissenters, and government critics,” Palabay stated.

Canlas was among those arrested in the course of police and military operations last March 30 through a search warrant issued by Angeles City Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Ma. Angelica Paras-Quimbao. The arrested peasant leader asserted that the guns, ammunitions and explosives and other so-called evidence seized during the raids were planted against him. His arrest came after similar cases of highly questionable searches conducted by the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines resulted in extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests and detention of activists in Southern Tagalog, Metro Manila, Bohol, and Negros.

The Karapatan official asserted that the government should ensure that Canlas receives full medical services from its own resources to save his life.

“State security forces who effected Canlas’ arrest and his detention at the BJMP should bear full responsibility for Ka Joseph’s dire condition. Ang kapal naman ng mukha ninyo kung ipinapasa na naman ninyo sa kanyang pamilya at mga kaibigan ang pagpapagamot sa isang biniktima ninyo,” she stressed.

Palabay called for the humanitarian and just release of Canlas, as well as all of the 96 sick and 65 elderly political prisoners who were all arrested on trumped-up charges.

“The Supreme Court and local courts as well as the Department of Justice should by now realize that jailing people, especially those arrested on fabricated grounds, in over-congested detention centers during the COVID-19 pandemic is akin to subjecting people to cruel and inhumane treatment and worse, death. It is imperative that Canlas be released now,” Palabay concluded.