Karapatan: Release sick peasant leaders Marcela Diaz and Virgilio Lincuna on just and humanitarian grounds

Human rights alliance Karapatan today called for the immediate release of Caraga peasant leaders Marcela “Silay” Diaz, 59 years old and a stage 4 cancer patient, and Virgilio “Yoyong” Lincuna, 70 years old and a former political prisoner as well as a stroke survivor suffering from partial paralysis. The group’s call came after the death of peasant leader Joseph Canlas of the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson due to COVID-19. Canlas, who had hypertension and diabetes, was said to have contracted the virus inside prison.

“This abhorrent and merciless practice of arresting elderly and sick peasant leaders, human rights defenders, and activists on fabricated charges is fast becoming the State forces’ way of subjecting them to jail conditions which are detrimental to their health and well-being. Ka Joseph Canlas is the latest example of these inhumane acts — and we cannot afford to let Marcela Diaz and Virgilio Lincuna and other sickly and elderly political prisoners to suffer the same inhumane treatment and fate,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

Both Diaz and Lincuna were arrested in separate incidents last Friday, May 14, on the day Canlas was buried. Diaz, a member of Kapunungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Surigao del Sur, was arrested by combined elements of the Butuan City Police Office, the Police Regional Office (PRO) 13, the Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office, and the Philippine Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur through an arrest warrant for a trumped-up attempted homicide charge. She is currently detained at the PRO 13 headquarters in Camp Rafael Rodriguez in Butuan City.

Meanwhile, Lincuna, a leader of the Caraga chapter of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), was arrested in Butuan City based on a trumped-up charge of two counts of murder. Lincuna was first arrested on October 10, 2019 on another trumped-up charge of attempted murder but he was released on bail after several days in detention. KMP said that he suffers from partial paralysis due to stroke that “he can barely walk and needs constant assistance in his daily chores.” He is currently detained at the Lianga Municipal Police Station in Surigao del Sur.

Palabay further scored the “policy and increasing practice of filing trumped up criminal charges against activists as a form of judicial harassment and an attempt to silence political dissent in the country” as well as the “brazen shamelessness of targeting elderly and sickly peasant leaders who have fought for farmers’ rights to land for decades and arresting them in the middle of a crisis where people are dying of both sickness and hunger because of the government’s criminal neglect of people’s welfare.”

“Both Lincuna and Diaz are most susceptible to COVID-19, considering their current health conditions. We call on the Commission on Human Rights and the International Committee on the Red Cross to monitor their situation and ensure that their conditions will not result to lamentable and tragic outcomes, such as the recent death of Ka Joseph Canlas,” the Karapatan official asserted. According to Karapatan’s documentation, at least nine political prisoners have died in detention under the Duterte administration; four of them died since the COVID-19 pandemic commenced.

“We call on the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice to urgently review and put an end to these acts which put the lives and security of human rights defenders at grave risk, both to the fascist attacks of the State as well as the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic in our country’s detention facilities. The judiciary should not be complicit in criminalizing the work of activists, their unjust detention, and more so their unjust death behind bars. Marcela Diaz and Virgilio Lincuna should be released on just and humanitarian grounds now,” she concluded.