Elderly environmental defender illegally detained in Laguna

·5 min read
Elderly environmental defender Daisy Macapanpan was believed to have been illegally arrested due to being critical of the Ahunan Pumped-Storage Hydropower Project. She remains in custody as of writing. (Photo from Karapatan Southern Tagalog).
Elderly environmental defender Daisy Macapanpan was believed to have been illegally arrested due to being critical of the Ahunan Pumped-Storage Hydropower Project. She remains in custody as of writing. (Photo from Karapatan Southern Tagalog).

Progressive groups call for the immediate release of environmental defender Vertudez “Daisy” Macapanpan, after she was arrested without a warrant in Pakil, Laguna by authorities on Saturday (June 11).

A video posted by Ace Macapanpan Gonzales showed Philippine National Police (PNP) - Special Action Force (SAF) members surrounding the elderly defender then pulling her from the concrete road into a police vehicle. Arresting officers sported full combat gear and carried high-caliber weapons.

This was only two days after Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (PNE) claimed that both they and the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines’ (CEC) were surveyed and red-tagged by authorities within a week. Incidents include vandalized posters of Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers, and Gabriela being left at their offices, and police officers following or photographing members without their consent.

‘A serious crackdown’

Ryan Macapanpan, Daisy’s relative, recalled how she was “dragged out like a pig” in a Defend Southern Tagalog (ST) press conference a day after the incident.

Binitbit po nila ang kamay niya at paa niya. Parehas lalaki ang humahawak. Ang tita ko po ay nagmamakaawa. [...] Sa galit po ng aking mga anak at pamangkin ay niyakap-yakap po nila ang kanilang lola,” the relative explained.

(They manhandled her by her hands and feet. Both men held her. My aunt was pleading. [...] In my children and niblings’ anger, they hugged their grandmother.)

Muling pinatutunayan ng pangyayaring ito ang matinding crackdown laban sa mga tagapagtanggol ng karapatan at kalikasan. Dadagdag ang naturang environmental defender sa humahabang listahan ng mga environmental defenders, mga magsasaka, mga katutubong Mangyan at Dumagat, at iba pang biktima ng karahasan mula sa gobyerno at mga katugma nitong interes,” Defend-ST Spokesperson Charm Maranan said in an earlier statement.

(This incident proved that a serious crackdown against rights and environmental defenders is taking place. The said environmental defender will be included in a growing list of other environmental defenders, farmers, and indigenous peoples (IPs) such as Mangyan and Dumagat, and other victims of violence from the government and their ulterior motives.)

The Mangyan and Dumagat communities faced similar struggles while condemning the Kaliwa-Kanan and Laiban dam projects. Both of which are projected to inflict massive environmental damage upon completion.

Pakil Mayor Vincent Soriano (center) meets with Karapatan-TK’s paralegal team. (Photo from Karapatan Timog Katagalugan / Facebook).
Pakil Mayor Vincent Soriano (center) meets with Karapatan-TK’s paralegal team. (Photo from Karapatan Timog Katagalugan / Facebook).

Both Defend-ST and Kalikasan PNE added that an unspecified rebellion case from 2008 was being leveled against Macapanpan, with the former group saying it was for a certain “Tian/Tiyang/Tyang.” Human rights alliance Karapatan Timog Katagalugan (TK) told Yahoo Philippines a warrant for the aforementioned case only shown after the arrest, but even then Macapanpan’s name was not in it.

“We urge [Pakil] Mayor [Vincent] Soriano to recall the arrest, having direct supervisory powers over the Pakil Police. He knows that the arrest is highly questionable and should not hide behind the complications of the law. He knows that Daisy did nothing but exercise her rights as a resident of Pakil to air her convictions over the Ahunan project,” Leon Dulce, Kalikasan PNE’s national coordinator, said.

Human rights alliance Karapatan Timog Katagalugan (TK) later learned Thursday (June 16) that authorities did not coordinate with the local government units (LGUs), with Soriano telling them that “hindi ko alam. Wala silang binanggit sakin [...] Actually, itong operation na ito ay joint talaga ng Armed Forces of the Philippines at PNP units (I don’t know. They didn’t tell me anything [...] Actually, this operation was more of a joint effort between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and PNP units).”

Even barangay officials were unaware that an arrest would take place, with the alliance saying “they reported that part of Brgy. Burgos’s protocol is for the officer-in-charge of the day to accompany the police in serving warrants of arrest. But besides the lack of [a] warrant, no barangay officials were informed about Vertudez’s arrest.”

On sacred ground

Groups such as Defend-ST and Kalikasan PNE believed that Macapanpan was arrested due to her protesting the Ahunan Pumped-Storage Hydropower Project: a project worth almost P1.1 billion to build and will cover about 299.4 hectares of Pakil land.

According to Kalikasan PNE, Macapanpan was delivering a speech that condemned the project (which will be built in the Sierra Madre’s Mt. Inumpog) and emphasized the affected lands’ “cultural value.”

The environmental group said that “among the hydrological risks assessed by Ahunan Power, Inc. include flooding brought by larger typhoons in floodplains along the shores of Laguna de Bay. The project is also located in a region characterized by moderate to high seismicity with active faults and subduction zones within a 150-km radius of the site, where a mapped risk of landslides is high.”

Ahunan Power, Inc., being a “joint venture” between Prime Metro Power Holdings Corp. (owned by billionaire Enrique Razon) and JBD Water Power Inc., have major stakes in the 1,400 mWH power plant.

“There is nothing wrong with airing disapproval and explaining opinions on why the Ahunan Hydropower Project should be shelved. The purpose of such discussions that locals have is to raise awareness and discourse over the matter at hand. Is there something that the proponents are trying to hide that Daisy has probably discovered,” Dulce continued.

In the end, Ryan hoped for due process to be honored, saying “sana po ang due process ay bumalik sa tahimik na bayan ng Pakil [...] na hindi ko alam bakit sinira po ito ng katakawan sa salapi [...] ng kung sinumang pulitikong ganid na gusto nilang sirain ang aming bundok na minana pa namin sa aming mga ninuno.”

(Hopefully due process would return to the peaceful municipality of Pakil, [...] which was destroyed by greed for money, for reasons I don’t understand, [...] by politicians who just want to destroy our mountain, which we inherited from our ancestors.)

Maranan then called for Macapanpan’s immediate release.

"The burden of proof is always on the accuser, which the practice of red-tagging seeks to bypass. As it stands, the manhandling and arrest of Macapanpan seeks only to serve corporate and vested interests seeking gain at the expense of the people and the environment," the Defend-ST spokesperson concluded.

As of writing, both Ahunan Power, Inc. and JBD Water Power Inc. are yet to respond to Yahoo Philippines’ inquiries.

UPDATE: In the tenth paragraph, Karapatan-TK clarifies that a warrant was only presented after the arrest, but it didn’t name Macapanpan.

Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.

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