MANILA, Philippines—Southeast Asian lawmakers on Thursday urged governments to support those who deliver food and aid during the COVID-19 pandemic instead of harassing and detaining them.
In a statement, Eva Sundari of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights encouraged the authorities to immediately drop all charges and investigations against their members Ariel Casilao in the Philippines and Charles Santiago in Malaysia.
Both Casilao and Santiago are known members of the opposition in their respective countries.
“It’s nothing short of outrageous that the authorities are going after people for helping out during this health crisis,” said Eva Sundari, a former Member of Parliament (MP) in Indonesia, and board member of APHR. “What the authorities are doing is criminalizing solidarity at a time when it is the most needed.”
Casilao, an APHR member and former Anakpawis representative in the Philippine Congress, and six other relief volunteers were arrested on April 19 on the grounds of non-cooperation and inciting sedition.
The group was arrested while delivering food assistance to residents of Sitio Kalye Onse in Bulacan despite obtaining the necessary permits to transport goods.
Casilao and his group were detained for four days at Norzagaray Municipal Police Station and was released on April 22 on bail with their arraignment expected to be heard after Metro Manila’s lockdown is lifted on May 15.
Santiago, meanwhile, had police question him and his staff for allegedly breaking Malaysia’s movement control order while distributing groceries and vegetables to constituents.
A member of the Malaysian Parliament and the chair of the country’s Human Rights and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, Santiago and his staff are being investigated for allegedly spreading a “disease dangerous to life” under Malaysia’s Penal Code and for disobeying orders under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act.
The arrest happened despite Santiago getting approval for food distribution from Malaysia’s Welfare Department.
“The fact that aid distribution is needed just shows the dramatic impact that lockdowns and movement restrictions can have on some of us. Instead of shutting down those who are stepping up to help, States should take swift action to ensure those in need can eat,” said Sundari.
“There’s no way charging people for supporting those in the community is helping fight against COVID-19, so the only other explanation is that there’s something much more sinister at play; that this is merely an excuse for the authorities to strengthen their hold on power.”
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