Groups seek justice as detained peasant leader, land defender Joseph Canlas dies

Published May 11, 2021, 11:25 AM

by Jhon Aldrin Casinas

Detained peasant leader and land defender Joseph Canlas has succumbed to complications due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on Tuesday, May 11, militant group Anakpawis said.

“We mourn the avertable passing of exemplary peasant leader Joseph Canlas,” Anakpawis said in a statement.

“He passed away early this morning after succumbing to complications of COVID-19, which he acquired from unjust and prolonged detention,” the group added.

Anakpawis called Canlas as “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,” the group said.

In an earlier statement, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the “miserable jail conditions and negligence of jail officers” have worsened the health of Canlas who was rushed to a hospital on May 8 after experiencing difficulty in breathing while in detention.

“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 and other marginalized sectors in Central Luzon,” Anakpawis said.

On May 10, the KMP said he was in a coma and hooked to a mechanical ventilator at the critical care unit of Jose B. Lingad Memorial Hospital in Pampanga.

His daughter, Jenette Canlas, told the Manila Bulletin that the peasant leader has tested positive in the COVID-19 antigen test.

The KMP suspected that Canlas, who had hypertension and diabetes, likely got infected while in detention and under the custody of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

“We will turn our grief into strong indignation and protest this government that kills its people. We call on all our fellow land reform advocates, human rights advocates, communities, and institutions to join us in demanding justice for Joseph Canlas,” the peasant group said in statement.

Peasant women group Amihan called for justice over the death of the Central Luzon peasant leader and condemned “in strongest terms the jail authorities’ neglect and the Duterte government’s unjust incarceration” of Canlas.

“Ka Joseph has been a constant target of the state’s red-tagging, threat, harassment and intimidation due to his relentless support for farmers, farm workers, fisher folk and peasant women in Central Luzon,” Amihan national chairperson Zenaida Soriano said in a statement.

Canlas was the vice-chairperson of the KMP, chairperson of Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson, and vice president of Anakpawis partylist.

Several groups have argued that the peasant leader was “illegally arrested and detained” on March 30 based on “trumped-up charges and fabricated evidence.”

Amihan said Canlas was a prominent peasant leader who led campaigns against land grabbing and displacement of farmers in Central Luzon for decades.

He also led campaigns for the repeal of Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law, and opposed the importation and the increase in palay farm gate prices.