The Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC) strongly condemns the illegal arrest of environmental defenders Marissa Cabaljao, spokesperson of People Surge, and four of its members. Marissa’s one-year-old baby was also with her when she was taken into custody by the police. At around 2:00 AM on February 7, agents of the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police raided the offices of two progressive organizations in Eastern Visayas. Rights groups claim that the firearms and explosives were planted as evidence for the arrests.
Marissa is a young peasant woman who found her voice amid the outrage of thousands of the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) with whom she has shared a common cry of justice. She was one of the many others who were affected by the lack of government support for recovery and rehabilitation after the typhoon’s devastation. As a community leader, she contributed to the success of her organization, People Surge, in expanding the beneficiaries of Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) from 2015 to 2016 and the Presidential Financial Assistance Program in 2017. People Surge is an organization of disaster survivors whose campaign and advocacy are based on a broad understanding of the interconnection of disaster, environment, climate, politics and society. Since then Marissa has been pivotal in their work on disaster risk reduction management, particularly in environmental protection and rehabilitation. Because of its role in helping vulnerable sectors in confronting the worsening climate crisis, People Surge became an Organizational Awardee in the 5th Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (Environmental Heroes Awards) held by CEC in 2018.
Until now, more than six years after Typhoon Yolanda, many affected families have not yet been relocated. Those that were given relocation recounted the state of the substandard housing in resettlement sites, many of which are far from their livelihood. They are still struggling to find ample income from their families. It should also be noted that most of the affected families come from the fisherfolk sector, the poorest sector in the country.
Environmental and human rights organizations have continued to support the disaster survivors amidst their plight and yet their work are being hindered. Despite being members of legitimate legal organizations, they are being tagged as members of communist terrorist groups which is then used as justification for human rights violations.
Their arrest is among many of the state-sponsored violations, clothed in so-called “legal” search and arrest warrants but are riddled with absurd accusations. Months ago, environmental activists calling for the protection of Manila Bay against reclamation, namely Cora Agovida and Michael Bartolome, were also arrested for alleged possession of explosives and firearms.
We demand the immediate release of Marissa Cabaljao, her one-year-old baby and the other four rights workers and the assurance of their safety in the hands of the police. No amount of arrests, raids, threats and intimidation can stop environmental defenders in advancing a just cause. We urge everyone to magnify their voices and strengthen our advocacy for the protection of the environment and human rights.
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