Rights activists, including an ecumenical youth organization, blamed the Philippine government for the death of a peasant leader who died of complications due COVID-19 while under detention.
In a statement, the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines said “it was not COVID-19 that killed [the peasant leader] but “state red-tagging, arrest, and negligence.”
Joseph Canlas, detained leader of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), or Peasant Movement of the Philippines, died on Tuesday, May 11, while confined in a hospital in Pampanga province.
He was among leftist leaders who were arrested in March for alleged links to the communist underground movement.
Canlas used to lead demonstrations to protest land grabbing and the displacement of farmers from their lands.
The peasant leader was earlier rushed to the hospital after he experienced difficulty in breathing and speaking.
In a statement, KMP said Canlas, who is hypertensive and diabetic, was in stable physical condition before he was arrested.
“The quick deterioration of his health in less than two months is unquestionably due to neglect of jail authorities, on top of severe and miserable jail conditions,” the group said.
The party-list Anakpawis called Canlas an “acclaimed democratic activist with thick contribution to the peasant movement in the country.”
“His momentous life as a veteran peasant leader would be gallantly celebrated by the farmers and fishers in a form of seeking accountability and justice,” said the group.
The groups blamed the government for Canlas’ “untimely death” due to what they described as “unjust and prolonged detention.”
The group Kapatid, a support group for families and friends of political prisoners, said the peasant leader was only found to be positive of COVID-19 when he was rushed to the hospital.
“Being imprisoned with trumped up charges is akin to death sentence,” especially for the 59-year-old peasant leader, read Anakpawis’ statement.
“Had Canlas not been arrested and charged with fabricated cases, he would have been alive and well by now, continuing his noble deeds for the emancipation of the peasantry,” said the group.