Jailed peasant leader Joseph Canlas dies of COVID-19 complications, his colleagues say

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 11) — Peasant leader Joseph Canlas died on Tuesday morning due to COVID-19 complications, his colleagues reported.

Canlas was among activist leaders arrested in March for supposed links to communist groups. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Anakpawis Party-list blamed the administration for his "untimely death" brought by his "unjust and prolonged detention" based on what they call fabricated charges.

READ: Groups decry ‘illegal' arrests of activist leaders in Central Luzon 

"We point our fingers to the [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict] that subjected Canlas to constant red-tagging, Angeles City RTC Executive Judge Ma. Angelica T. Paras-Quiambao who issued the search warrant against Canlas; the [Philippine National Police] that executed the defective warrant and carried out the illegal arrest last March 30; and the [Bureau of Jail Management and Penology] for consciously neglecting Canlas' health condition," KMP said in a statement condemning the death of its vice chair.

CNN Philippines is striving to get comments from these government agencies and officials.

The group said Canlas was rushed to Jose B. Lingad Memorial Hospital in San Fernando, Pampanga on Saturday evening due to a possible stroke and low oxygen level. He was then transferred to an intensive care unit on the same day due to acute respiratory failure and COVID-19 symptoms. On Monday, he was already in coma.

Kapatid, the support group of families and friends of political prisoners, in a statement said it was only after Canlas was rushed to the hospital that he was tested for COVID-19, and the result came out positive.

Anakpawis Party-list noted that "being imprisoned with trumped up charges is akin to death sentence," especially for the 59-year-old peasant leader with comorbidity.

"Had Canlas not been arrested and charged with fabricated cases, he would have been alive and well by now, continuing his noble deeds for the emancipation of the peasantry and other marginalized sectors in Central Luzon," the group added.

Canlas' lawyer, Atty. Luchi Perez of the National Union of People's Lawyers, said they will take legal action to hold the Angeles City Jail and the CIDG accountable. She said up to 100 inmates who have been sharing the same quarantine facility have not been tested for COVID-19.

Peasant women group Amihan said Canlas was already not feeling well as early as last week, but BJMP Angeles District Warden Jsupt. Rebecca Manalo-Tiguelo allegedly dismissed his ailment, saying he was "umaarte lang" (faking it).

Canlas previously led campaigns against land grabbing and the displacement of farmers in Central Luzon. He also led campaigns for the repeal of RA 11203 Rice Liberalization Law and opposed the importation and the increase in palay farm gate prices, Amihan said.

Kapatid also reported that political prisoner Maximo Redota had died of stroke last Sunday after being held at the Gumaca jail in Quezon.

Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said the deaths of Canlas and Redota now bring to four, the number of political prisoners who died "without even a fighting chance to live because of government inaction on abysmal jail conditions."