By EMILY VITAL
MANILA – Progressives held a bike ride Sunday, Feb. 28, to call for the dropping of murder charges against Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) campaign director Lutgardo “Boyette” Jurcales Jr. and for the renewal of visa of Dutch missionary and labor advocate Otto de Vries.
Activists gathered in front of the Quezon City Hall then pedaled toward the Commission on Human Rights via Commonwealth Avenue, Katipunan Avenue and CP Garcia Avenue.
Jurcales and ten other activists from different parts of the country have been implicated in the killing of a Lumad in Kapalong, Davao del Norte on March 22, 2018.
On that day, however, Jurcales attended a public forum on the West Philippine Sea at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, according to Feny Cosico, secretary general of Agham (Science and Technology for the People) who organized the event. Cosico said the charges against Jurcales are clearly fabricated.
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. maintained that Jurcales has never set foot on Davao del Norte. Reyes criticized how Jurcales and his co-accused were denied due process, saying that Jurcales only found out about the charges against him after a court already issued a warrant of arrest.
De Vries, meanwhile, is being kicked out of the country. The Bureau of Immigration has canceled his permanent resident visa, after the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) accused the lay missionary of “engaging in activities of terror.”
De Vries has been in the Philippines since 1991. He was invited by Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, OCD of the Prelature of Infanta to do pastoral work in the country. He worked as an electrician in various construction projects to investigate the harsh working conditions in the construction sector. He has been a volunteer researcher for Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) in the past five years.
ATM. Progressives gather here in front of QC City Hall for a bike ride for Otto de Vries, a Dutch missionary working in the Philippines for the past 20 years. pic.twitter.com/qapnQG7WNV
— Bulatlat (@bulatlat) February 27, 2021
In her speech during the program at CHR, EILER Chairperson Nancy Gabriel said De Vries is far from being an undesirable alien. “Otto is not a terrorist. In fact, he is peaceful, productive and he has contributed much to the labor research in the country,” Gabriel said.
EILER Secretary Rimando Felicia said that De Vries is not the first foreigner to volunteer in EILER for the past 40 years. “The difference with Otto is that he came, and has never left. He is more Filipino than other Filipinos,” Felicia said.
Felicia said that De Vries has been riding his bike when visiting factories, and doing other tasks for EILER.
Armando Hernando of Migrante said De Vries visited many picketlines, offering moral and material support to the workers. When ten construction workers fell from the 28th floor in a condominium construction project of tycoon Lucio Tan’s Eton in 2011, Hernando said De Vries raised funds to help the families of the victims.
In his homily, Fr. Dave Capucao of the Prelature of Infanta said De Vries is a lay missionary “who searched for God in the factories, and found God among the workers.”
Capucao said De Vries could have lived a comfortable life in the Netherlands but has chosen to do his pastoral mission among the Filipino workers.
Lawyer Fudge Tajar of Labor Rights Defender Network said the Duterte administration is afraid of foreign missionaries who uphold human rights.
In 2018, Australian nun Patricia Fox who dedicated three decades of her life serving the Filipino farmers had been expelled from the country. President Duterte publicly said he was the one who ordered the arrest of Fox before she was deported to Australia.
Both Bayan and EILER have been publicly tagged by the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as “communist-terrorists.”
“If you are branded as a terrorist by a demon, it means you are on the right side,” Tajar said.