DILG to charge ex-lawmaker, volunteers arrested while bringing relief goods to Bulacan

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Volunteers on their way to deliver relief goods to a community in Norzagaray, Bulacan will face charges for violating quarantine rules.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) — The Department of Interior and Local Government said it will file charges against former Congressman Ariel Casilao and six volunteers who went to distribute relief goods in Norzagaray, Bulacan on Sunday in violation of quarantine rules.

In a statement, DILG Spokesman Jonathan Malaya said Casilao, who represented the Anakpawis Party-list in the 17th Congress, will be charged for violating provisions of the Bayanihan to Heal as One law that sets strict stay-at-home protocols for residents of Luzon.

"We wish to remind Anakpawis that the virus cannot spread by itself," Malaya said in a statement on Monday. "It has no legs. It is people that spread the virus. You give us no choice but to file charges against you."

"Wala po tayong special treatment kahit may congressman kayo," he also said. "Ang lahat ng pasaway, kakasuhan [We don't give special treatment even if you have a congressman with you. We will sue all violators]."

Casilao and his team of volunteers from Tulong Anakpawis and Sagip Kanayunan said they were blocked and apprehended by cops on Sunday morning but were not informed of their violations. The left-leaning group said it was plain harassment, as several groups called for their immediate release.

The relief goods were eventually distributed to the intended recipients in Barangay Bigte after they were turned over to local authorities, the DILG said.

The DILG took the gesture as an "unauthorized travel outside of Metro Manila," and accused Casilao's team of attempting to organize a mass gathering in the community in the guise of distributing relief goods.

Malaya claimed the jeepney that ferried the group and the goods also carried tarpaulins, pamphlets and other "propaganda materials." He added that the materials were confiscated by local police to be used as evidence in court.

"Kung tunay ngang relief operation ang kailangang gawin, bakit 'di sila nakipag-ugnayan sa IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force), NTF (National Task Force) COVID or kahit man lang sana sa local government unit ng Norzagaray, Bulacan? [If they were really conducting relief operations, why didn't they coordiate with IATF, NTF, or even with the local government unit of Norzagaray, Bulacan?]," Malaya said.

"Maari naman silang payagan kung 'yon ang tunay nilang layunin [They would have been allowed if that's really their purpose for visiting],” he added.

The DILG identified the volunteers as Karl Mae San Juan, Marlon Lester Gueta, Robero Medel, Eriberto Peña Jr., Raymar Guaves, and Tobi Estrada. They will be charged for violating provisions of the Bayanihan law, among them for non-cooperation and resistance and disobedience to a person of authority, while Casilao will face raps for usurpation of authority. The DILG claimed the vehicle used an unauthorized food pass and that the team namedropped Casilao to get past checkpoints before they were accosted.

The Communist Party of the Philippines denounced the arrest, saying it "shows the Duterte regime’s perverse priorities even amid the pandemic."

"Instead of focusing on efforts to ensure the welfare of the people suffering under the restrictive lockdown, it has intensified the fascist clampdown against activists even when they are conducting relief work," the CPP said.

The group will undergo inquest proceedings Monday for the charges.