Karapatan demands release of two Batangas peasant leaders

Karapatan demanded the release of two long-time peasant activists in Batangas, one of them a victim of illegal search during the March 7, 2021 Bloody Sunday raids in the Southern Tagalog region.

Karapatan demanded the release of two long-time peasant activists in Batangas, one of them a victim of illegal search during the March 7, 2021 Bloody Sunday raids in the Southern Tagalog region.

Erlindo “Lino” Baez, 53, spokesperson of BAYAN-Batangas, and Wilfredo “Willy” Capareño, 60, coordinator of Anakpawis-Batangas, were arrested at dawn of October 6, 2021 in a house where they are staying in Manggalang 1, Sariaya, Quezon, by around 50 elements of the Philippine National Police 1st Quezon Provincial Maneuver Force Company, Sariaya Municipal Police Station and the Provincial Intelligence Unit of the Quezon Provincial Police Office.

The police allegedly found firearms and explosives in their possession, which both peasant leaders vehemently denied, charging them with another case of illegal possession of firearms and explosives in a court in Lucena City. Reports also said that Capareño has become a co-accused of Baez in the previous charge against him. Baez and Capareño, who were only allowed to be seen and visited by their families on October 8, are detained at Camp Soledad Dolor, Candelaria, Quezon.

“The Supreme Court rules on the use of body cameras should have been strictly observed in this case. Were body cameras used in the arrest of Baez and Capareño? Were they allowed to witness the downloading of of the recorded files by the police data custodian, 24 hours after they were taken? These questions are important in looking into these cases filed by the police against the peasant leaders,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

During the Bloody Sunday raids, Baez was not around when police searched their house in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, but the police declared they allegedly found firearms and explosives inside the house. This was the basis of the arrest warrant, issued by Judge Jose Ricuerdo Policarpio Flores of Regional Trial Court Branch 6, Tanauan City, Batangas, which was served against him last Wednesday.

“Despite the lack of basis, grave irregularity and rights violations evident in those raids, the PNP went on to pursue Baez and used the said warrant based on false charges and planted evidence. The police shamelessly planted more evidence against Baez and Capareño to justify their recent arrest,” Palabay said.

Baez is a land rights activist, who led peasants and fisherfolk against landgrabbing and ecotourism projects in Hacienda Looc in Nasugbu, Batangas which affected thousands of poor communities. He was also a former human rights worker of Karapatan in the province. Capareño is a long-time organizer of peasants in the province. In the last two years, the two have been assisting and organizing communities including those affected by the Taal Volcano eruption and those who needed assistance amidst the restrictive lockdowns due to the pandemic, They were continuing their work in Quezon, before their arrest.

“Baez and Capareño have previously suffered different forms of threats and violations to their rights and those of their families. Baez has been at the receiving end of threats and harassment by state forces, which forced him and his family to transfer residence a number of times. Capareño has been red-tagged and labeled as a member of the New People’s Army and threatened with arrest in 2019. They stood their ground and asserted their rights, in order to continue their work in organizing and assisting peasants in the region,” according to Palabay.

In a statement issued by Baez after the Bloody Sunday raids, Baez said, “Bigong-bigo ang pwersa ng estado na patahimikin ako—palpak silang pigilan akong ipaglaban ang katotohanan! Nagawa man nilang pasukin ang aking bahay upang tamnan ng mga pekeng ebidensya at gawan ng mga gawa-gawang kaso ang aking sarili, hindi naman nila nagawang busalan ang aking bibig! (The state forces failed to silence me. I will not be cowered to speak truth to power. They may have been able to raid my home and plant false evidence, incriminate me through trumped-up charges – but they can never silence me.)”

“The arrest of Baez and Capareño is foreboding of many other rights violations which may occur in the next months leading to the May 2022 elections. We call for their immediate release and for greater vigilance as state forces continue to arrest and detain activists who are among the vocal critics of the Duterte administration,” Palabay said.