October 19, 2018 marks the first year of Ben Quilloy and Rita Espinoza’s arrest in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental. Quilloy is a Senior Consultant of the Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) and Espinoza is his Project Staff. They were illegally arrested by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) while having their lunch. They were there for a consultation on October 14-15 with the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and a post-consultation meeting until October 17. The two were later charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The military claims that they are Louie Antonio Martinez and Aurora Cayon, who are supposed to be high-ranking members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Allegedly, Quilloy has a warrant of arrest for murder and multiple attempted murder case issued on April 2017 by RTC Branch 7 in Agusan del Sur. On the other hand, Espinoza is being accused of arson and murder. From Camp Montelibano in Negros Occidental, they were brought to Camp Crame in Quezon City on October 23 without the knowledge of their lawyers. Then on June 8, they were transferred to Bayugan Police Station in Agusan del Sur once again, unbeknownst to their legal counsels. They are currently detained at the Butuan City Jail.
Since the 1980s, Quilloy has been involved in organizing work especially among scientists, professionals, and sugar workers. He also helped establish various organizations, including ASCENT. He also served as a consultant of NFSW, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), and Advocates for Community Health (ACH). Meanwhile, Espinoza has worked with many farmers’ organizations in Mindanao in a span of two decades. She also worked as a volunteer staff of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP).
As development workers, their role is to help address the needs of the poor and marginalized sectors of our society, especially those living in rural areas who are largely unable to access government services. But instead of supporting them, the government through its state security forces is demonizing their work and tagging them as members of the CPP or the New People’s Army (NPA).
Their case is but one of the hundreds involving activists, peasants, workers, and even lay people who are working to improve the lives of the poor and marginalized people but are imprisoned by the government. Five days ago, four peasant organizers were arrested by the CIDG in Natividad, Nueva Ecija for supposedly being members of the NPA and recruiting new members. Then on October 15, Adelberto Silva, a consultant for the National Democratic Frot (NDF) and his 4 companions, including Hedda Calderon, a known women’s rights activist, were also arrested at a checkpoint in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. They are being charged with illegal gun possession, which were planted by the police. These illegal arrests are part of the military’s ploy to convince the public that the Red October, a plot to allegedly oust President Duterte is indeed real, and not their mere concoction to curb the negative criticisms and increasing dissent among the masses because of the latter’s growing rage with the rising inflation, rice crisis, and low wages.
ASCENT strongly condemns the continued illegal detention of Quilloy, Espinoza, and all other political prisoners who are only guilty of serving the underprivileged and marginalized. Activists and development workers do not deserve the attacks and human rights violations that they are experiencing. But instead of being disheartened, we are even more emboldened to continue to fight for our cause and serve those in need.