Philippine activists press for release of environmentalist

Jojo Riñoza
Philippine activists press for release of environmentalist Philippine environmental activists spell out “Defend our Rights” during a rally at the Department of Justice in Manila, April 20, 2018.

Rights groups and a relative on Wednesday condemned the arrest and detention of a 69-year-old woman who has been campaigning against the construction of a major hydroelectric power plant on a protected mountain range.

Police accused Daisy Macapanpan of being a member of the banned communist party, but human rights groups said her arrest was the latest attack on activists in the Philippines, a country considered one of the world’s most dangerous places for land and environmental defenders.

The Philippine National Police confirmed that Macapanpan was arrested during a joint operation between police commandos and military personnel in Pakil, a town in Laguna province just outside Manila. Visual artist Kiri Dalena said her Aunt Daisy was not a rebel, but a “staunch defender of the land, water and cultural heritage” in Pakil. 

“(She) has been tirelessly organizing educational materials, primers, signature campaigns and manifestos about why the people should resist,” Dalena told reporters.

Macapanpan has campaigned against the construction of the Ahunan Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Power Plant on top of a mountain in Pakil. The mountain is part of the watershed of the Sierra Madre range. 

The woman is “a victim of the state’s crackdown against activists, which continues toward the end of the Duterte regime,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of local human rights group Karapatan, referring to President Rodrigo Duterte who will leave office at the end of the month.

“(Macapanpan) is a victim of warrantless arrest and unjust detention based on false charges, which are seen as reprisals for her advocacy work for the environment and her community,” she said.

Witnesses said Macapanpan was dragged, handcuffed and forced inside a police vehicle despite putting up no resistance. Karapatan said the police did not show a warrant for her arrest – a recently passed anti-terrorism law empowers authorities to detain anyone even without warrants for up to two weeks on mere suspicion of terrorism.  

Local media reported that a Regional Trial Court in Quezon had issued an arrest order against Macapanpan for the crime of rebellion.

In its statement, the national police alleged Macapanpan was an “executive committee member of the [Communist Party of the Philippines’] sub-regional area 4A” and has long been listed in a “police periodic status report” as a wanted person.

Authorities did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment on accusations by Dalena and the rights groups.

‘Voices should be recognized’

The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment condemned the arrest and expressed fears of more harassment and additional surveillance over accusations of links to communist fronts - a practice known as “red-tagging” and which has proved deadly in some cases.

Kalikasan members said police last week “knocked at our office looking for an individual not familiar with our staff” and without consent took photographs of the office and a staffer. 

“We fear that this is the beginning of a crackdown against land and environmental defenders under the incoming authoritarian Marcos-Duterte regime,” Leon Dulce, the group’s national coordinator, said in a statement. “Our voices should be recognized and respected as we speak truth to power over the worsening ecological and climate crises our nation is facing.” 

Duterte on June 30 will hand the reins of government to Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is to be inaugurated as president that day. Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, will serve as Marcos’ vice president.

In a statement this week, Global Witness, a London-based environmentalist and human rights advocacy NGO, noted that Philippine police and military randomly accuse certain groups of being communist sympathizers.

This “has become a sinister tactic used to intimidate, defame and vilify legitimate activists for their work,” the group said.

“The criminalization of activists through tactics such as red-tagging is often used as a pretense for arrest and can increase the likelihood of an attack.”

Global Witness described the Philippines as the world’s deadliest nation in 2018 when 30  environmental activists were killed – a number that jumped to 43 the following year when it trailed only Colombia, which recorded 64.

“This mirrors a trend of criminalization of land rights and environmental activism not only in the Philippines but globally,” it said, as it called on the government to “guarantee the security” and safety of environmentalists.


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