By ZOFIA LEAL
MANILA – On January 30, Monday, Florence “Renz” Kang received news that Jennifer Awingan, an indigenous peoples rights activist, was arrested in her home in Baguio City because of a warrant issued by a Bangued, Abra court based on rebellion charges.
Renz also found out that he was among those listed in the warrant, with six other activists and development workers in the Ilocos and Cordillera regions. The military accused them of participating in an ambush staged by the New People’s Army on October 27, 2022, in Barangay Gacab, Malibcong, Abra against four personnel of the 24th Infantry Battalion.
While it did not come as a surprise to Renz as he has been subjected to numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation in the past, he fears for his safety and worries about how to tell the news to his family.
Renz, as his colleagues and friends call him, is a development worker who has led several relief operations to communities in the Ilocos region that were most affected by disasters .
In fact, on the day of the alleged incident, Renz was busy preparing for relief operations. On October 29, 2022, Renz was in barangay Pancian, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte where he and his colleagues provided food packs to families who became isolated as a result of a landslide that occurred in the previous month.
Before becoming executive director of the Ilocos Center for Research, Empowerment and Development (ICRED), Renz served as vice president for Luzon of Kabataan Partylist and was the partylist group’s fifth nominee in the 2019 elections.
In a statement, ICRED said that the charges against Renz are baseless. The group said that Renz has introduced innovative solutions in implementing disaster risk reduction measures. Recently, he became part of a team that was awarded a grant to test a Siphon-based Potable Water System under Pinnovation Academy.
ICRED said that since 2016, Renz has had his pictures posted in tarpaulins in different areas of the Ilocos region red-tagging him with other youth leaders. “Despite these, he did not falter and is more determined to continue in his development and humanitarian work,” ICRED said.
Growing up in Manila and with a Korean father and Filipino mother, Renz led a relatively easy life. When his family went to live in South Korea, he opted to stay in the Philippines and pursue college education at the University of the Philippines-Baguio where he took up Social Sciences with a major in Anthropology and minor in Political Sciences.
Living on his own, he started to learn about the plight of indigenous peoples and farmers. He joined the League of Filipino Students and the Sigma Kappa Pi Fraternity, in which he became the Master Scribe. He participated in campaigns to increase the education budget for state universities and colleges.
In 2012, he decided to live in the Ilocos region and pursue community and development work. Due to the nature of his work, he was not able to see his family for more than a decade now. Even when the opportunity arose for him to travel to South Korea, he opted to stay in the Philippines as he had chosen to continue working with the farmers’ communities.
ICRED is calling for the dismissal of charges against Renz and eight other activists and development workers. (RVO)