Joseph Canlas, a leader of the Filipino farmers’ struggle against land grabbing, was detained and arrested by the Philippine police on March 30, 2021. Canlas is also the chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL-KMP) and National Vice President of Anakpawis Partylist. The Civil society of Philipines argue that this arrest was made based on what appear to be questionable grounds.
Pan Asia Pacific (PANAP) is one of five regional centres of Pesticide Action Network, a global network dedicated to the elimination of harm upon humans and the environment by pesticide use, and to the promotion of biodiversity-based ecological agriculture. PANAP echoed along with many civil society groups worldwide and of various UN human rights bodies for a stop on the apparent political repression of activists in the Philippines, including leaders and members of cause-oriented peasant groups.
KMP on its social media page (Facebook) explained,’Canlas was nabbed from a peasant community at around 8:30 AM, Tuesday. Fabricated evidence was planted against him according to initial reports. The peasant leader was taken to Camp Olivas in San Fernando Pampanga.’ The organisation noted Canlas leads numerous campaigns and struggles for the welfare of farmers in Central Luzon. Before his arrest, from January to March this year, he actively campaigned against the demolition and eviction of farmers in Orion, Bataan whose lands were grabbed by corporate executive Federico Pascual.
Canlas is most vocal against the conversion of farms and agricultural lands as Central Luzon transforms from the country’s “rice granary” into the land conversion hotspot for the Duterte government’s Build! Build! Build! program. Canlas and AMGL are strongly campaigning against the displacement of farmers and indigenous people as a consequence of projects such as the 9,450-hectare Clark Green City, Bulacan Aerotropolis, Pampanga Megalopolis, and Balog-Balog Mega Dam project, among others. Canlas previously asserted that these projects will displace farmers, further wreck the country’s rice supply, and endanger the food security of Filipinos.
Last year, Canlas actively criticized the Department of Agriculture’s P272-M overpriced fertilizer fund scam and Plant, Plant, Plant program amid the pandemic. He also resolutely campaigned for higher palay prices as he scoffed at the Duterte administration’s Rice Liberalization Law, and importation policies affecting farmers and food producers across Luzon.
One of the major campaigns that Canlas has been leading is the campaign to stop the Balog-Balog Multipurpose Dam project of the Philippine government. Estimated to cost USD 327 million, the dam is being constructed by a joint venture involving the Chinese firm Guangxi Hydroelectric Construction Bureau Co. Ltd. The project is located in the province of Tarlac (almost 129 kilometres north of Manila).
Canlas is fighting for the more than 2,000 families of peasants and indigenous peoples from about 33 sitios (a territory within a village) feared to be displaced by the construction of the Balog-Balog dam. Thus, tens of thousands of rural people affected by Balog-Balog dam are also in a way attacked with his arrest and detention.