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Philippines: Alarm over mass arrests of journalists, writers, artists and other cultural workers

Saturday 11 June 2022 - 6:24pm

Image Courtesy Of Altermidya, acquired With permission By Cristina Palabay

Update - 12 June 2022

On 12 June 2022, a court order was issued for the release of all accused on completion of payment of a reduced bail.

According to reports, the police initially refused to observe the court order for several hours before releasing all 83 detainees. The charges against them remain, with the arraignment of the accused scheduled to take place on 17 June.

Philippines: PEN International is alarmed by reports that 83 people have been detained in the Philippines following their participation in peaceful activism. Included among those detained are numerous writers, poets, journalists, artists and other cultural workers. PEN International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those unjustly detained, and for the Philippine authorities to halt the use of judicial harassment to silence peaceful expression.

On 9 June 2022, over 90 individuals, including farmers and writers, journalists and artists, were arrested by the police while they were engaged in peaceful activism in support of land reform. Dozens of volunteers and activists joined local farmers in solidarity by cultivating land that the farmers claimed was awarded to them by the Department of Agrarian Reform.

However, over 20 armed police arrived on the scene to halt the activity, initially arresting over 90 individuals. Video recordings and images taken during the arrests raise concerns over the use of excessive force by the authorities. Subsequent reports have emerged stating that at least two of those arrested were reportedly briefly hospitalised before being sent back to their holding cell.

Included among those detained are poets, writers, journalists, and numerous cultural workers. This includes award winning poet Angelo V. Suarez. Following his initial arrest, he made a public post on his social media account calling for support for those detained. Also included among those detained are at least 11 journalists who were arrested despite identifying themselves as members of the press to the police, according to a statement made by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Following the initial arrests, several individuals were released due to age (at least four are minors) and the prosecutors’ inability to establish probable cause for eight others. The remaining 83 were formally charged on 10 June with obstruction of justice (Article 146) and malicious mischief (Article 151) under the Revised Penal Code. Each charge faces a potential sentence of six months imprisonment if convicted. The bail set for all 83 amounts to over three million Philippine pesos, a heavily punitive sum given the financial precarity of many of those detained. Efforts are ongoing to raise the necessary funds to cover bail costs.

The use of judicial harassment to silence peaceful expression is one of the many tactics that has been frequently used by the authorities to target journalists and activists, severely undermining freedom of expression in the Philippines.

PEN International calls on the government of the Philippines to uphold its citizens’ right to free speech and equal protection under the law and to end the use of judicial harassment to target activists and silence peaceful dissent.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: