Stop Harassing NGO workers, Free Ben and Rita!

Posted:

June 11, 2018

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Activist scientist group AGHAM condemns the deceitful and unwarranted transfer of detained development workers Ben Quilloy and Rita Espinoza by Bayugan police from Camp Crame where they were incarcerated since October 2017 to a yet undetermined location in Agusan del Sur. The two were illegally arrested on October 19, 2017 by combined forces of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) while conducting a series of consultations with the National Federation of Sugar Workers. They were both slapped trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental and murder in Agusan del Sur and in Zamboanga. Rita was filed with robbery and arson case Agusan del Sur.

Ben is a convener of Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) while Rita is a Project Staff of the same organization. Before their full involvement in development work, they were student activists in the time of the Marcos dictatorship who since then did not depart from fighting for the rights of the poor in the rural communities.

Ben was a young scientist who studied Sugar Technology at University of the Philippines Los Banos in the 1970s. He stood out as a student leader when he became President of the UPLB Chemical Society and one of the founders of the Ecological Society of the Philippines. His integration with sugar workers in Negros Occidental, which exposed him to their extremely unjust and oppressive conditions, compelled him to turn his back to a promising career path in the sugar industry. Instead, he devoted his entire life working for the betterment of the lives of the poor sugar workers until the time of his arrest.

The case of Ben and Rita has exposed the vulnerability of development workers and people’s scientists to the abuse and atrocities of the government forces. They become targets of harassment and repression because of their political beliefs. Their case is no different from AGHAM physicist Kim Gargar who was incarcerated for ten (10) months in Baganga jail in Davao Oriental after he was illegally arrested by the military while conducting rehabilitation assistance to farming communities affected by Typhoon Pablo in Cateel, Davao Oriental in 2013. Like Ben and Rita, Kim was also slapped with trumped up charges of illegal possession of explosives, violation of the Comelec gun ban and 2 cases of attempted murder. He was freed on bail.

Botanist Leonard Co and his colleagues Julius Borromeo and Sofronio Cortez met a harsher fate as they were brutally killed by the military in Kananga, Leyte in 2010. They were doing an ethnobotanical study when they were chanced on and fired upon by the military. They were accused as members of the New People’s Army by their mere presence in the remote area. To this day their case remains unsolved.

The harassment, abduction and killing of those who are defending the rights of the poor are escalating. Amid this present state of terror, we must stand ever more resolute to defend our rights and freedoms. AGHAM calls for the urgent release of Ben and Rita, along with the more than 400 political prisoners who are denied their freedom because of their advocacy for the poor. #

For reference:

Maria Finesa Cosico
Secretary General
AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People
Contact Details: 0917 811 5445