Activist Joseph Canlas died today of COVID-19 inside a Pampanga jail, days after his colleagues mounted a public campaign to convince authorities to free him from detention.
Canlas, the vice-chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), was arrested on March 30 in Mexico town by the Pampanga police for the alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The 58-year-old land defender’s capture was allegedly illegal, and prior to this, he was constantly accused of being a communist.
According to the KMP, he was detained in Angeles City, where was put in quarantine with at least 100 prisoners. By May 7, Canlas appeared ill and was stuttering during a phone call with relatives. He was also feeling weak, had difficulty breathing, and needed help eating and walking. He was rushed to a hospital on May 8 over suspicions that he had a COVID-induced stroke and succumbed to a coma two days later. He died this morning due to what the KMP described as “grave government neglect and deprivation of necessary health and medical attention.”
Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) officer Rebecca Manalo-Tiguelo, the chief of the Angeles City jail, belittled Canlas’ illness, the KMP said. Tiguelo allegedly said that Canlas was “umaarte lang” or was just pretending to be ill. The organization also blamed the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict for red-tagging Canlas, Judge Maria Angelica Paras-Quiambao for issuing the warrant that led to the peasant leader’s arrest, and the Philippine National Police.
“We could only blame the Duterte government for Canlas’ untimely death. The state’s brutal fascism killed Canlas who was exposed to COVID while in detention and under the custody of the BJMP. His unjust detention led to the swift deterioration of his health condition,” the KMP said.
The KMP sent its “sincerest condolences” to Canlas’ family.
“We will turn our grief into strong indignation and protest this government that kills its people. We call on all our fellow land reform advocates, human rights advocates, communities, and institutions to join us in demanding justice for Joseph Canlas,” the organization added.
Human rights organization Amnesty International has urged the Duterte government to stop its widespread practice of red-tagging, saying that it was “vicious and at times, deadly.” The Philippines has the longest communist insurgency in Asia, and the Duterte government has exerted all efforts to end it. However, some Filipinos have said that the administration is persecuting human rights defenders and legitimate dissenters in an effort to quash the rebellion.