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Rights group seeks release of ex-Anakpawis solon, volunteers arrested for 'unauthorized travel'

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) has appealed for the release of seven volunteers who are supposed to deliver relief goods to communities in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are appalled by how the Philippine government treats relief volunteers in this time of a global pandemic. The recent arrest of seven civilians whose only intent is to help their fellow farmers affected by the crisis is a testament to this,” ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy said in a statement.

Murphy was referring to the incident on Sunday when a passenger jeepney with six people on board was flagged down at Barangay Bigte in Norzagaray, Bulacan. The vehicle was carrying 50 packs of relief goods and a tarpaulin read “Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis.”

“We are appealing to the Philippine authorities to release the volunteers and abandon the militarist approach to the pandemic, which is a health crisis. Instead, they should work with organizations which try to help people cope with the pandemic,” Murphy said.

One of the seven arrested was former Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao, who negotiated their release with the police so that they may turn over the goods for distribution.

The goods were distributed but the same volunteers were reportedly called back and detained again in the police station.

Casilao and his team were then charged for violating quarantine protocols by supposedly “conducting an unauthorized travel outside of Metro Manila and attempting to organize a mass gathering in Norzagaray, Bulacan in the guise of distributing relief goods.”

Casilao and the others underwent inquest proceedings on Monday. --Llanesca T. Panti/KBK, GMA News