Arrest of 5 farmers in Cagayan Valley underscores escalating attacks vs farmers - Karapatan

“Last year, Karapatan documented a disturbing trend of attacks against farmers, peasant organizations and communities en masse. We are no longer talking about individual violations, but affronts and abuses that threaten and endanger entire organizations and communities. The Duterte regime has taken its onslaught on people’s rights at an unprecedented scale. Though more pronounced in Mindanao, the same pattern can also be observed in different parts of the country,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay on the mass illegal arrest of farmers.
On February 18, 2018, five farmers from Brgy. Old San Mariano, Isabela were illegally arrested by elements of the 86th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA) in Ilagan City, Isabela, Cagayan Valley. Victims Mauricio Sagun, 65, Maximiniano Domongo, 44, Bernard Penaflor, 21, Ariel Penaflor, 49, and Mario Turqueza, 65, were subjected to intense interrogation and slapped with trumped-up cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The perpetrators also planted a 
.38 caliber revolver and three grenades in the victims’ belongings. Sagun is currently detained at BJMP Ilagan while the four others are at the Isabela Provincial Jail. The farmers were alleged by the military as NPA members. 
Following the illegal arrest of four members of the Asosasyong Mag-uuma ug Lumad sa Agusan ug Davao (PAMULAD) in June 2017, five members of the Compostela Farmers Assoication (CFA) and six members of the Solidarity of Peasants against Exploitation in July 2017, six members of the Kasibu Inter-Tribal Response for Ecological Development (KIRED) and Samahang Pangkarapatan ng Katutubong Magsasaka at Manggagawa (SAPAKKMMI) in September 2017, and three members of the Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Agusan del Sur (NAMASUR) in December 2017, the wholesale arrests of members of peasant organizations and peasant communities remain unabated.
“There is a sharp increase in this government’s legal offensive against leaders and members of peasant organizations and communities. In collusion with courts, local governments, and state security forces, they have criminalized hundreds of farmers and land rights activists,” explained Palabay, citing Karapatan’s March 2018 data on political prisoners which puts the number of individuals arrested and detained under Duterte to 170, out of the 501 political prisoners. 
Palabay added that in most cases, these arrests are accompanied by coercing the farmers to forcefully “surrender” as members of the New People’s Army (NPA). An International Fact Finding and Solidarity Mission recently held in different areas in Mindanao has affirmed the same in its findings. “Foremost targeting peasant and indigenous communities, the military aims to create the illusion that the government is effective in its counterinsurgency campaign, by making it appear that thousands are “surrendering”. On the ground, however, communities and organizations are being terrorized, torn apart, or uprooted as consequences of the regime’s militarist and fascist approach,” the Karapatan leader remarked.
“The semi-feudal character of the country has given rise to worsening landlessness in rural areas. This is all the more compounded by massive landgrabbing perpetrated by agribusiness plantations and mining corporations. Such a system is conveniently maintained by those in government, majority of which also come from the landed elite. This situation has brought about resistance in peasant communities who are primarily affected -- resistance that is justified and for farmers who have everything to lose, necessary. This will not be solved through arrests and rampant violations, but through concrete socioeconomic platforms,” Palabay explained.
“We demand for the immediate release of the Ilagan 5 and all political prisoners. We likewise urge the Duterte regime to continue the peace talks which should serve as a platform to address landlessness in the country, among the root causes of social unrest. Karapatan also call on all individuals and organizations to amplify the call for an end to the economic, social, civil and political rights violations heavily perpetrated against farmers, their organizations and communities,” concluded Palabay.