This 2022: Justice and freedom for political prisoners | Inquirer Opinion
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LETTER TO THE EDITOR

This 2022: Justice and freedom for political prisoners

/ 04:01 AM January 03, 2022

As we welcome 2022, justice and peace advocates in New Zealand join human rights defenders around the world in demanding freedom and justice for all the victims of the Duterte administration’s horrific crackdown on community leaders, activists, and educators, reminiscent of its infamous war on drugs.

It is outrageous that thousands have been unjustly arrested and brutally killed under Duterte’s drug war and war against community activists. Meanwhile those who are rich and close to power such as Kerwin Espinosa, a self-confessed drug dealer, will soon be free after the court dismissed drug trafficking charges against him.

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New Zealand indigenous rights advocates and community leaders were shocked to hear of the arrest of Lorena Sigua, a Filipino educator, poet, and community advocate on a trumped-up murder charge. Lorena was arrested on Sept. 19, 2021 in Bulacan, Northern Luzon, and charged with murder for allegedly taking part in an attack by the New People’s Army on members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on April 22, 2018, in Agusan del Sur, Mindanao. But in fact, she was not in Mindanao at this time. Lorena returned to Manila after arriving back from New Zealand on April 6, 2018, and on the day of the alleged murder she was attending the indigenous festival “Cordillera Day” in Baguio, 1,413 kilometers from Agusan.

In 2018, Lorena took part in a speaking tour in Aotearoa/New Zealand about the situation of indigenous lumad schools in Mindanao, Philippines. Lorena impressed audiences in New Zealand with her moving defense of the lumad schools. During her visit, Lorena met members of parliament, representatives from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, human rights advocates, members of the local Filipino community, Māori leaders, and students and staff at Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori and tertiary Wānanga.

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Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori students and staff enjoyed a rich dialogue with Lorena and the delegation as they exchanged experiences around the strategies that Māori and indigenous communities have adopted to build a national movement for language and cultural revitalization. We were particularly disturbed to learn of the routine harassment and state violence that our lumad counterparts face, for attempting to educate children in indigenous ways.

Lorena was a volunteer with the Education Development Institute in developing curriculum, books, and resources for lumad schools in Mindanao. She also was a volunteer for students at the Lumad Bakwit School at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, for young people forced to leave their ancestral lands due to militarization and widespread human rights violations.

Lorena’s bravery and commitment to quality education for indigenous communities resonate with the struggles of our people in the kura kaupapa movement. We call for immediate freedom for Lorena and all political prisoners who have been slapped with trumped-up charges.

Helen Te Hira, Auckland Philippines Solidarity, [email protected]

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TAGS: Helen Te Hira, Letters to the Editor, Political prisoners, Rodrigo Duterte
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