Colleagues and Filipino-American youth attested to the commitment of peasant leader Joseph Canlas and labor leader Pol Viuya as they launched a network to campaign for the immediate release of the two.
By SINAG JOAQUIN
“Both Joseph and Pol are instrumental parts of their communities and must be freed immediately.”
Christian sent this message to the launch of the Free Joseph Canlas and Pol Viuya Netrwok on April 24 in an online event via Zoom.
Christian O., a student who met both Joseph Canlas and Pol Viuya during the Kapit Bisig Kabataan Network Environmental Relief and Rehabilitation Mission in 2016, was steadfast in his call to immediately release the two political activists and mass leaders in Central Luzon who were simultaneously arrested on March 29, 2021 on charges of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
Canlas is the chairperson of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (Alliance of Farmers in Central Luzon) and the vice chairperson of the national peasant alliance, Kilusang Magbubukid nag Pilipinas. Meanwhile, Viuya is the chairperson of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (National Patriotic Alliance) in Central Luzon and the Workers’ Alliance of Region 3.
Various representatives from peasant and labor groups, together with church leaders and Filipinos overseas formed part of the network which calls for the release of the two peasant and labor leaders. The network also aims to gather funds for the legal expenses as counter charges are ready to be filed this week.
Family members and other prominent peasant and labor leaders in Central Luzon spoke at the event and condemned the continuous detention of Canlas and Viuya. Filipino-Americans like Christian who integrated with the farmers and laborers in the region spoke of how the two activist leaders have made an impact on the lives of their constituents. The Fil-Ams visited the Philippines in 2016 to join a fact finding mission in the aftermath of a brutal massacre of four unarmed farmers at Fort Magsaysay Military Reserve in Nueva Ecija.
“These kind hearted people (Joseph and Pol) made me realize that the work that they do has tremendous impact on our Filipino communities back home,” said JP Sanchez, one of those who joined the mission, said.
“I could tell that their knowledge about the struggles facing peasant and Aeta communities didn’t just come from studying about their lives from a book, but by actually being alongside the masses in fighting for their livelood, rights, and dignity for decades,” said Adrian Bonifacio who couln’t help but admire the work and dedication of Joseph and Pol in the last three decades that they have been leading the struggles of the masses in Central Luzon.
Trina Liwanag, a student, added, “Alongside many delegates of the Kapit Bisig Kabataan Network I think we wold all say that Joseph and Pol were two individuals who changed our perspective on the Philippines, changed how we saw our lives as Fil-Ams as inextricably tied to the situation of the Filipino people, and changed how we saw our responsibilities as young people to our skills to serve the people.”
Trina remembered how Joseph explained the conditions of the people throughout Central Luzon, particularly how the combination of typhoons and large-scale open-pit mining done by multinational corporations completely devastated the lives of farmers and fisherfolk.
“When we all integrated with farmers and engaged in production work, it only solidified the truth in what Joseph spent all those hours teaching us. Our experience made us realize that the harsh conditions faced by the masses were a result of longstanding neglect and outright repression,” she said.
Trina also remembered Pol as “charismatic and relatable, funny, and equally passionate about serving the people.” “What I admired was his deep and genuine relaionships he built with families. They saw and treated each other with respect and love,” Trina said.
As a fitting tribute to both Canlas and Viuya, Trina said, “Leaders like Joseph and Pol have no desire but to see the people of the Philippines live fair and just lives. Their arrest and imprisonments only further show the correctness of their work and the Duterte government’s failure to prioritize the true needs of the people during a global pandemic.”