Giving relief goods is not a crime, immediately release relief volunteers



On April 19, 2020, at around 10:15 a.m, volunteers of Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis relief drive were apprehended at the checkpoint in the boundaries of San Jose Del Monte City and Norzagaray in Bulacan. The relief volunteers were on a humanitarian relief mission and scheduled to deliver relief goods/food packs to residents of Sitio Kalye Onse, Barangay Bigte in Norzagaray, Bulacan. The relief volunteers were wearing face masks and observing physical distancing. The relief volunteers have food pass and permits to deliver the relief goods. 

The police manning the checkpoint stalled the vehicle, a green jeepney with Plate Number ZNH 869, and inspected the passengers and contents of the jeepney. The vehicle is loaded with 50 relief bags/food pack. Each food pack contain six kilos of rice, sugar, coffee, munggo, cooking oil, soy sauce, vinegar, dried fish, soap, multivitamins, pancit canton, onions, garlic, tomatoes, Covid 19 handouts and old printed issues of Pinoy Weekly and LINANG publications.

After several minutes, a police in plainclothes commandeered the jeepney driver to proceed to the Norzagaray Municipal Police Station. The volunteers arrived at the police station at around 11am. Several residents who met the volunteers at the checkpoint were also advised to go to the police station.

The relief volunteers are from peasant organizations Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, SAKA/Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and Sinagbayan.

While at the station, the police officers did not explain why the relief volunteers were apprehended. They were just made to wait outside the police station for no apparent reason.

At around 12nn, former Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao arrived at the Norzagaray Municipal Police Office to negotiate for the release of the relief volunteers and the resumption of the relief operations.

At around 12:30, the Norzagaray Police still refused to release the relief volunteers and even at that time, the police did not give any reason why the volunteers are being unjustly held against their will at the police station.

At around 1:30 pm, the relief volunteers were allowed to leave the police station after Casilao negotiated with Norzagaray police chief Lt. Col. Jaime Quicho. It was agreed that the goods will be turned over to the barangay for distribution to the beneficiaries. The relief packs were received by a barangay officer. The residents left the police station.

However, after a few minutes, Casilao and the volunteers were called back by the police and were told that they will proceed to Paombong Bulacan, and then later on to the Bulacan Provincial Police Office in Malolos City. They left Norzagaray Police Station at around 1:40pm and they arrived at the BPPO at around 3:35pm. They were asked to wait for police director PBGen. Rhodel Sermonia.

When Sermonia arrived, he admonished Casilao and shouted at the relief volunteers and started a tirade of red-tagging. Other police officers witnessing the incident laid out the fliers and the tarpaulins of Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis on the floor, and took videos of the volunteers while they were being reprimanded by Sermonia.

The police also confiscated the accredited Food Pass issued by BFAR with a validity period until June 30, 2020.  

At around 5pm, the police told the relief volunteers that they will go back to Norzagaray Police Station for inquest proceedings after being informed by Sermonia that shall be charged for violating the ECQ guidelines on Authorized Persons Outside of Residence (APOR). Shortly after returning to the Norzagaray Municipal Police Station the relief volunteers underwent medical examination. Afterwards, investigating police officer Dacanay took mugshots of the detained relief volunteers, except for Ariel Casilao.

Up to this point, no formal charges were filed against the detained relief volunteers. However, it was reported that Casilao noticed that the mugshot pages contained charges for violating RA 11332 β€œor the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act” and the Revised Penal Code on Inciting to Sedition. 

As of this writing, the volunteers are still being detained at the Norzagaray Municipal Police Station. They have not rested since last night due to  repacking of the relief goods.  

Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis are joint relief drives for urban and rural poor families. The beneficiaries are mainly families of farmers, farmworkers, fisherfolks and urban poor. These relief efforts started way back in 2009 after the Ondoy/Habagat typhoon season.

During this COVID19 lockdown, more than 2000 families from different communities in Cavite, Bulacan, Rizal, Batangas, Isabela, Cagayan and Sorsogon already received relief packs from the relief drive. Sources are mainly from donations. ###

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