activist groups in PH

Pampanga activist’s case bailable until cops find grenade in pot

Lian Buan

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Pampanga activist’s case bailable until cops find grenade in pot

ARRESTED. KMP vice chair Joseph Canlas is arrested for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, a usual charge against activists.

Photo courtesy of PAMALAKAYA

SENTRA lawyer Jobert Pahilga says it's a pattern: Police use search warrants to detain activists longer for the non-bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives

If police were serving an arrest warrant for mischief and trespass only against peasant worker Joseph Canlas in Mexico, Pampanga, he would have been able to post bail and get a release order immediately. But the arresting team instead found a grenade, a valid cause to jail the activist indefinitely.

Canlas’ lawyer Jobert Pahilga from SENTRA or Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo said the arrest warrant against Canlas was supposed to be for mischief and trespass only, a bailable offense.

But in simultaenous raids in Central Luzon on Tuesday, March 30, police did not only serve an arrest warrant, but also a search warrant against Canlas in his rented home in Mexico, Pampanga. In the search, police supposedly found grenade in a plant pot in the compound.

Canlas is the vice chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and part of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL).

Lito Lumapaz of AMGL, who owns the house, said police also found a gun, 11 bullets and leftist documents. But Lumapaz said it was found at the back of a house in the same compound, and far from the searched property, which also serves as an AMGL office.

Illegal possession of firearms and explosives is a non-bailable offense, and being caught in the act of possession of such is valid ground for warrantless arrest – a consistent operation narrative of the police in its crackdown on supposed communists.

“There’s a pattern, this has been done all over the country, in Negros, in Panay, in Tumandok, in Southern Tagalog, and now in Central Luzon. The modus now is to plant grenades so the activists cannot post bail and they will be detained for a long time,” Pahilga said in Filipino in an online press conference on Wednesday, March 30.

Lumapaz denied that Canlas owns the grenade or the gun.

Planting evidence

“They literally planted evidence in a pot, but the problem of the police is, even if they say they found it in the pot, it has to be under your dominion or control, to be charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives,” said Pahilga in Filipino.

“Both operations were done in an orderly manner in the presence of barangay officials and court representatives,” according to Philippine National Police (PNP) region 3.

Lumapaz said he got to the compound at 6:30 am on Tuesday and found personnel of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) already there. Lumapaz said they were prohibited from taking a video of the search. Human rights lawyers advise people being searched to take videos and photos as long as they do not obstruct.

“Our other companions were prevented from taking a video and were prevented from going inside while they were searching my house, so we cannot do anything, and then a bag just turned up containing a grenade, gun, and 11 bullets,” said Lumapaz in Filipino.

Activists had been complaining of a modus where police send an advance party to raid a house, and after a couple of hours, begin the formal service of a search warrant with the required witnesses like barangay officials.

This happened to Amanda Echanis, who was arrested in Cagayan in December. Echanis is the daughter of slain activist Randall Echanis, whose murder in August remains unsolved.

Canlas is one of the 3 activists arrested on Tuesday in Central Luzon, the two others from Bamban, Tarlac, who were also supposedly found with explosives during the implementation of a search warrant.

Karapatan paralegal May Arcilla was released after her inquest on Wednesday, but pending further investigation for obstruction of justice.

Bayan Central Luzon’s Pol Viuya is still being held for illegal possession of explosives.

Pahilga said they would rather avail of the more exhaustive process of a preliminary investigation, which will start Monday, April 5. – with reports from Jairo Bolledo/

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.