activist groups in PH

Detained peasant leader dies of COVID-19 in Pampanga

Jairo Bolledo

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Detained peasant leader dies of COVID-19 in Pampanga

FARMER-LEADER. Joseph Canlas, 59, was arrested in March 30 due to alleged illegal possession of firearms, and died on May 11 due to complications of COVID-19.

Photo by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas blames the Duterte government for the death of 59-year-old peasant leader Joseph Canlas

Detained peasant leader Joseph Canlas died on Tuesday, May 11, due to complications of COVID-19, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) confirmed.

Canlas, 59, died early morning of Tuesday while inside the intensive care unit of Jose B. Lingad Memorial Hospital, according to Jail Senior Inspector Gerald Bautista of BJMP Central Luzon Community Relations Service Office.

Canlas was the vice president of KMP, who was arrested by the police during simultaneous raids in Central Luzon on March 30 along with two other activists due to alleged possession of firearms and explosives. 

The peasant leader started to have fever on May 7, according to Bautista. The following day, his body started to feel weak and his oxygen level dropped. 

On May 8, he was rushed to the Ospital ng Angeles, but was later transferred to Jose B. Lingad Memorial Hospital where he died due to complications of COVID-19. The BJMP official said Canlas was also suffering from diabetes and hypertension. 

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According to Bautista, there are no current COVID-19 active cases in BJMP Angeles City. Although there were previously reported cases among jail personnel and persons deprived of liberty, all of them have already recovered. 

In a statement, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said Canlas acquired the infection while inside the detention facility in Angeles City, Pampanga. He was the fourth political prisoner who died because of COVID-19, according to the data of rights group Kapatid.

KMP mourned the death of their leader and blamed the Duterte government for his arrest, which they said led to his death. “The state’s brutal fascism killed Canlas who was exposed to COVID while in detention and under the custody of the BJMP. His unjust detention led to the swift deterioration of his health condition.”

On March 30, the police armed with a search warrant raided the peasant group’s office past 6 am and arrested Canlas based on the discovery of a gun allegedly found in his office. He was initially detained in Camp Olivas in San Fernando City.

The peasant leader was tagged as a supposed recruiter of the New People’s Army and was consistently red-tagged prior to his arrest. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.