Support for five young activists, including a church worker and a community journalist, who were arrested in the central Philippines last week continue to pour in.
Formal charges for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosive devices during a pre-dawn raid in the city of Tacloban on Feb. 7 were filed against the accused on Feb. 10.
If proven guilty, the activists face from six to 20 years in prison for illegal possession of firearms and lifetime imprisonment for illegal possession of explosives.
All the accused, who were working for legal people’s organizations and NGOs during the time of the arrest, denied the allegations.
Activist groups maintained that the arrests are part of the government’s “intensified crackdown” on those who oppose the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Before their arrest, the activists reported that they have been subjected to various surveillance operations by state security forces.
Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan, national director of the social action secretariat of the Catholic bishops’ conference, expressed solidarity with those “maliciously and unfairly red-tagged.”
The prelate called on the government for “a more judicious exercise of power so as to see things in the light of unbiased action and truthful judgement.”
Bishop Bagaforo assured that the Church “will continue to condemn acts of indignation, discrimination and unfair use of power that will demean the poor and the vulnerable.”
Naomi Klein, a Canadian filmmaker joined in a petition, along with “The World Organization Against Torture,” calling for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the activists.
Klein, who previously worked for a film project with one of the activists, expressed concern over the safety of those who were arrested, noting that several Filipino environmental activists have been killed.
“We are devastated to learn of this inhumane action taken by the Philippine government, said Filipino-Canadian filmmaker Sean Devlin. He said the “situation is dire.”
Devlin, director of the 2018 documentary movie “When Storm Fades” on the onslaught of Super Typhoon Haiyan started a petition now signed by over 3,000 people.
Police and soldiers arrested on Feb. 7 Marissa Cabaljao, 33, of the People Surge Network, an alliance of victims of Haiyan whose works include promoting the shelter and land rights of survivors.
Also arrested were Mira Legion, 21, of the New Patriotic Alliance or Bayan; Marielle Domequil, 22, of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines; Alexander Abinguna, 24, of Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas; and radio journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, 21.
The International Association for Women in Radio and Television, which has 14 country chapters worldwide, said Cumpio’s arrest is “yet another blow to press freedom.”
The Commission on Human Rights, a government body, said “the alarming series of attacks against human rights defenders in the country has been linked to elements of the government.”
The commission expressed concern over “the patterns of harassments,” adding that some government officials have tried to connect human rights defenders with communist groups “to pursue a politically motivated defamation campaign against them.”