The International Women’s Alliance (IWA) strongly condemns the arrest and detenion of seven volunteer relief workers of Sagip Kanayunan (Relief Countryside) and Tulong Anakpawis (Help the Toiling masses) and former Representative Ariel Casilao last April 19,2020. The relief workers were on a humanitarian relief mission to deliver relief goods and food packs to residents of Stio Kalye Onse, Barangay Bigte in Norzagaray Bulacan. When they arrived at the checkpoint in the boundaries of San Jose Del Monte City and Norzagaray in Bulacan, they were apprehended by the police.
The group had the necessary food pass and permits to deliver the relief goods. They were wearing face masks and observing social distancing. The police ordered the group to proceed to the Norzagaray Municipal Police Station. Several residents who met the volunteers at the checkpont were also advised to go to the police station. No explanation was given as to why they were taken to the Municipal Police Station.
At around 12 pm, former Anakpawis Rep Ariel Casilao arrived in Norzagaray Municipal Police station to negotiate for the release of the relief volunteers and the resumption of the relief operations. The police refused to release the group and still no reason was provided for detaining them.
At around 1:30 p.m. the relief volunteers were allowed to leave the police station after Casilao negotiated with Norzagaray police chief. They agreed that the goods would be turned over to the barangay for distribution to the beneficiaries. The relief packs were received by a barangay officer. The residents who had met the volunteers at the check point were also allowed to leave the police station.
However, after a few minutes, Casilao and the volunteers were called back by the police and were told that they would proceed to Paombong Bulacan and later to the Bulacan Provincial Police Office in Malolos City. There, they were asked to wait for the police director.
When the Police Director arrived, he admonished Casilao and shouted at the relief volunteers and started a tirade of red-tagging. The group was accused of bringing propaganda materials against the government. They had past issues of Pinoy Weekly, a weekly publication critical of the Duterte government, and had tarpaulins. The police also confiscated the Food Pass which was valid till June 2020.
At 5 p.m. the volunteers were ordered back to the Norzagaray Police Station for inquest proceedings and that they would be charged for violating the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) guidlines on Authorized Persons Outside of Residence. At the Norzagaray Municipal Police Station the group underwent medical examination and mugshots but still no formal charges have been made and continue to be detained at the police station.
Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis to which the volunteers belong to, are relief organizations for urban and rural poor families. The beneficiaries are mainly family of farmers, farm workers, fisherfolk and urban poor.
The International Women’s Alliance demands the immediate unconditional release of former Representative Ariel Casialo and the six volunteers of Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis. This militarist approach to the Covid crisis is typical of the Duterte government, which in effect is implementing “martial law-like” tactics to the extensive community quarantine. During this crisis, enacting these type of fascist attacks against cause oriented groups and activists who are doing humanitarian and relief work only exposes to severe lack of care by the government to the Filipino people.