MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 2:17 p.m.) The human rights group Karapatan slammed Task Force Davao for detaining its secretary general for Southern Mindanao, Hanimay Suazo, and three peasant leaders for five hours before finally letting them go late Wednesday night.
Karapatan said Suazo, with Lito Lao, Pedro Arnado and Jerry Alborme of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Southern Mindanao were on their way home from an activity of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, a group of farmers recently installed on land they were disputing with Lapanday Foods Corp., when they were accosted at a checkpoint in Lasang around 7 p.m.
The human rights group quoted the four as saying the soldiers manning the outpost told them they were being held because they looked “suspicious.”
But Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, scoffed at Task Force Davao’s reason for detaining the four, calling it “a great lie.”
“As leaders of people’s organizations, Lao and the other activists arrested by TFD are all well-known, and are practically local personalities especially in Davao City. The arrest is plain harassment and can be a prelude to a general crackdown on activists and people’s rights advocates.”
The troops at the checkpoint wanted to take them to a nearby military camp but “the four stood their ground, asserted their right against warrantless arrest and illegal search and insisted on staying put inside their vehicle, until a Karapatan quick reaction team came,” a statement from the human rights organization said.
They were finally released at 11:57 p.m., Karapatan said.
“While Karapatan welcomes news that they were released, we denounce the said acts of TF Davao as forms of harassment against civilians which are arbitrary and made openly legitimate by Duterte’s martial law declaration,” it said. “It is also worrisome that such acts are done against human rights defenders, who have faced numerous threats from State security forces and trumped up charges because of the work they do in defense of people’s rights.”
Karapatan said since Duterte declared martial law over Mindanao soon after fighting broke out in Marawi City between extremist gunmen and government forces on May 23, “at least 14 peasant activists in Mindanao have been illegally arrested and are still detained.”
It also cited the “questioning” over just one day of at least 260 Moro youth and the harassment of around 30 lumad and Christian women, also at a checkpoint, as proof that Duterte’s Proclamation 216 “is being used for counterinsurgency purposes, affecting civilians, including activists, who the military arbitrarily tags as ‘enemies of the State’.”
“We reiterate our call for the immediate lifting of martial law in Mindanao and the revocation of the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus,” Karapatan said.