BY AARON MACARAEG
MANILA — Norzagaray police filed charges against former Anakpawis lawmaker Ariel Casilao, following his arrest yesterday after he responded to apprehended relief operations volunteers.
The relief operation, initiated by Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis, was flagged down at a police checkpoint, April 19 in Norzagary, Bulacan. (Read: 6 relief ops volunteers arrested sans charges )
Charges against Casilao are: usurpation of authority, violation of Section 9 of Republic Act No. 11332 (An Act Providing Policies and Prescribing Procedures on Surveillance and Response to Notifiable Diseases, Epidemics, and Health Events of Public Health Concern) ,and violation of Section 4 of Executive Order No. 922 (Declaring a State of Public Health Emergency).
The rest of the arrested volunteers were also charged with similar cases except for usurpation of authority. They were, instead, charged with inciting to sedition.
The prosecutor has yet to issue an inquest resolution and Casilao and the volunteers are still detained at the Norzagaray Municipal Police office.
The police said that instead of relief goods, the volunteers would distribute copies propaganda materials, referring to Pinoy Weekly, an alternative news publication.
But Sama-Samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA), a collective artist group for peasant movement and one of the allied organization of Tulong Anakpawis and Sagip Kanayunan, belied the claims of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTF-ELCAC) infographic Facebook post claiming the relief operation was meant to deliver anti-government propaganda.
SAKA said Pinoy Weekly is not a propaganda materials but an established news outfit. The group also said that the publication contains information about the global pandemic COVID-19.
SAKA maintained there is nothing wrong in delivering food packs to those in need of aid.
Kenneth Guda, editor in chief of Pinoy Weekly, said the seizing of copies of their publication is an outright violation of press freedom.
“It seemed like the Norzagaray police had forgotten that the right to free speech and expression is not bound to be repressed even during lockdown,” said Guda.
Guda said that the articles produced in the “anti-government propaganda” copies were well-sourced.
Each relief food pack contain six kilos of rice, sugar, coffee, munggo, cooking oil, soy sauce, vinegar, dried fish, soap, multivitamins, pancit canton, onions, garlic, tomatoes, COVID- 19 handouts, and old issues of Pinoy Weekly and Linang, newsletter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
“There were also no anti-government products in the food packs. There is no such thing as anti-government vegetables, anti-government condiments, or anti-government soap,” said SAKA.
Since the lockdown, Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis were able to provide relief aid to more than 2,000 families in Cavite, Bulacan, Rizal, Batangas, Isabela, Cagayan and Sorsogon, according to KMP.
Authorized food pass
Contrary to police claims that the relief operation was illegal, Pamalakaya, which is part of Sagip Kanayunan, asserted that their activity was duly authorized by Bureau of Food and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
The food pass was acquired by Pamalakaya on April 17, and that the relief operation that day was the second batch already. The pass is a requirement needed to buy vegetables in the market and distribute these to local communities.
Pamalakaya called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) and BFAR to deplore the Norzagaray police and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) for ‘invalidating the official food pass’ that they have issued.
“The illegal arrest and detention of our seven volunteers including Casilao is not only a violation of the people’s right to relief aid, but also a vile harassment against our humanitarian volunteers who are considered as frontliners for providing relief goods to the poor families,” Pamalakaya added.
‘Economic aid, unity against COVID-19 not harassment’
Human rights organizations have called for the immediate release of Casilao and the six volunteers.
Watchdog Karapatan expressed concern on the government’s focus on arresting critics and activists rather than fast-tracking socioeconomic relief in vulnerable communities.
KMP maintained that relief volunteers were on a humanitarian relief mission and that doing so is not a crime.
The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) likewise condemned the arrest and called on the government for “supportive actions to people-led and civil society group initiated solutions rather than suppression and harassment.”
“This is a time for unity and inclusion, a time to welcome legitimate dissent to map out people-responsive solutions,” IPMSDL said in a statement.
The International League of Peoples’ Struggle, meanwhile, said in a statement, “The masses have taken it upon themselves to look out for one another and provide each other support through collective efforts such as relief operations due to the government’s snail-paced, measly and obscure social amelioration program still has not reached the poor.”