Groups decry ‘illegal' arrests of activist leaders in Central Luzon

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BAYAN-Gitnang Luzon chairman Pol Viuya and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas vice chairperson Joseph Canlas

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 30) — Leftist groups slammed the arrest of two activist leaders in separate raids in Central Luzon on Tuesday, calling them illegal and a result of red-tagging.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said the police “stormed the office” of its regional chapter in Mexico, Pampanga to serve an arrest warrant for Joseph Canlas, the group's national vice chairperson, at around 8:30 a.m.

In the same morning, the group BAYAN-Gitnang Luzon said the police arrested its chairman, Pol Viuya, at his residence in Bamban, Tarlac.

The Philippine National Police confirmed the arrests in a press release, saying they were based on search warrants issued by local courts on Monday.

It said the 59-year-old Canlas was arrested in Mabalacat, Pampanga during the implementation of a search warrant issued by Executive Judge Ma. Angelica Paras-Quiambao of the Regional Trial Court in Angeles City, Pampanga, for violation of the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.

The PNP said Canlas also had a standing warrant of arrest for malicious mischief, issued by Presiding Judge Theodorick Ayungco of the Municipal Trial Court in Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija in December 2020.

It said another search operation resulted in the arrest of Viuya, 58, and paralegal May Arcilla, 49. It cited a search warrant from Presiding Judge Jeovannie Ordoño of the Regional Trial Court in Capas, Tarlac. It was not clear if the names of both Viuya and Arcilla were on the warrant.

The PNP said several firearms and ammunition were recovered from the suspects.

“Both operations were done in an orderly manner in the presence of barangay officials and court representatives,” the statement said.

KMP and BAYAN said the police and military have accused both Canlas and Viuya of being recruiters of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which the government considers a terrorist organization.

The human rights group Karapatan, meanwhile, said the police arrested Arcilla just as she was questioning the validity of the search warrant on Viuya.

The groups said the arrests were part of the crackdown on activists and that the firearms supposedly confiscated from them were planted.

The activist groups are calling for the release of their members, saying Canlas has been a long-time peasant leader, Viuya a labor leader, and Arcilla a human rights defender.

The PNP made no mention of their affiliations, saying the arrests were part of the "aggressive drive to recover and to seize loose firearms through continuous police operations and implementation of Search Warrants against illegal gun owners."

The KMP noted that the arrests came just weeks after the “Bloody Sunday” operations in the Southern Tagalog region early this month. Nine activists were killed while six were arrested in what the police called “legitimate” search operations.