UMA condemns illegal arrest of spokesperson, activists in Davao City

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Lito Lao, UMA-SMR Spokesperson at NFSW 8th Congress (file photo)

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) vehemently condemns the illegal arrest of Lito Lao, spokesperson of UMA-Southern Mindanao Region (UMA-SMR), who was held together with other peasant and human rights leaders last night, June 28, by elements of Task Force Davao (TFD) in a checkpoint in Lansang, Davao City.

Aside from Lao, also arrested were Pedro Arnado, regional chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP-SMR); Gerry Alborme, Secretary General of KMP in North Cotabato; and KARAPATAN-SMR secretary general Hanimay Suazo.

According to Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, UMA secretary general, the grounds for their arrest by TFD security personnel for being “suspicious individuals” is a great lie. “As leaders of people’s organizations, Lao and the other activists arrested by TFD are all well-known, and are practically local personalities especially in Davao City. The arrest is plain harassment and can be a prelude to a general crackdown on activists and people’s rights advocates.”

Only last May 8, President Duterte even met with Arnado and Lao, together with leaders and members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (MARBAI) during the President’s much-publicized visit at the farmers’ protest camp-out in Mendiola.

Lao and the others were eventually released after the intervention of Karapatan paralegals and Exodus for Justice and Peace.

The activists just came from Tagum City to document cases of human rights violations. According to Karapatan-SMR, cases of human rights violations are growing in the region since martial law was declared in Mindanao a month ago.

A partial list includes the following: 5 political killings; 2 frustrated killings; 8 strafing incidents; 3,417 individuals threatened, harassed, and intimidated; 14 cases of destruction of property; 23 illegally arrested; 2,000 individuals forcibly evacuated due to aerial bombing and mortar shelling; and 2 cases each of killed and frustrated killing due to indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians.

This includes the illegal arrest and detention of 3 banana workers and their supporters who organized and supported the strike of Shin Sun workers when some 100 military men, 30 police officers and 20 scabs attacked their picketline on June 2 in Compostela Valley.

These growing human rights violations including the arrest of the 4 human rights defenders must be vehemently condemned. “We call on Duterte to immediately lift Martial Law in Mindanao – this call echoes with people advocating for just and lasting peace not only in Mindanao but in the whole country as well,” said Ramos.

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