Groups press gov’t to free activists after farmer leader’s death in jail

A SUPPORT group for families and friends of political prisoners in the Philippines again asked the Supreme Court to act on their request for intervention in the cases of jailed activists following the death of a farmer leader due to coronavirus complications.

Kapatid Spokesperson Fides Lim, in a statement on Tuesday, said they have asked Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo to intervene in order to “prevent more deaths,” and “to order an inspection of all prison facilities, including quarantine centers.”

“This function is within the High Court’s judicial duties to protect the right to life and health of those in government custody,” she said.

Joseph Canlas, who was vice chairman of the farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and chairperson of Alyansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Gitnang Luzon, died Tuesday due to complications relating to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which his family and colleagues believe he contracted at the Angeles City Jail.

The 59-year old farmer was arrested March 30 for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives.   

Mr. Canlas’ lawyer, Luz Luchi Perez of the National Union of People’s Lawyers   said they hold the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group “accountable for the tragic death of our client and shall take legal action against them.”

Ms. Perez said the BJMP does not have clear health protocols, and that inmates were not tested for COVID-19 “with around 90 to 100 detainees sharing the same quarantine facility in the Angeles City Jail.”

“We believe that the government should be held accountable because in the midst of a pandemic, it focuses its resources and powers to trump-up cases and incarcerate activists and development workers,” Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) Spokesperson Liza Maza said in a press release on Tuesday.

“Not one individual should be subjected to repression simply because of their political and social involvement,” Ms. Maza added. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago

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