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PHILIPPINES: Day 4: Run, hunger strike physically costly to farmers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRESS RELEASE

AHRC-PRL-040-2008

PHILIPPINES: Day 4: Run, hunger strike physically costly to farmers

Manila, December 5, 2008—After three days of running and hunger strike, the effect had unfortunately been physically costly to some of the farmers.

One of the eight farmers on hunger strike, 22-year-old Aireen Celis, had to be taken to a nearby hospital, East Avenue Medical Center (EVMC), after she fell ill. Before she was taken to hospital she told her colleagues that she was feeling weak, dizzy and her head was aching while tightly holding her stomach.

What she had the past three days was only water and no food.

Aireen's colleagues and Fr. Robert Reyes, a staff member of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), took her to the hospital for treatment. Later, she was diagnosed to have suffered from dehydration and her sugar count was low.

Aireen is the daugther of Jose Celis, one of the farmer beneficiaries of the land of President Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, in Isabela, Negros Occidental. She was also one of those 30 farmers arrested and briefly detained at a police station in Kamuning, Quezon City on November 27, for holding a protest at the Land Registration Authority (LRA).

At the time, the group of farmers were demanding the LRA to intervene by taking action to the refusal of the Registry of Deeds (ROD) in Bacolod City to have ownership of the 157 hectares of land transferred from the Arroyo family to the Philippine government after the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) paid about P42 million (Approximately US$ 85,000) for the property on behalf of the farmers.

Aireen's brief detention and the suffering her sickly father had to endured, has left her no choice, according to her colleagues, that prompted her to take part in the indefinite hunger strike together with seven other farmers. Since her sickly father could not be physically present in Manila, she took this on in his stead. She is the youngest person and the only woman in the group.

Also, even though her colleagues were at first reluctant to let her join the hunger strike as she was having fever days after she and her colleagues were released from detention Aireen nevertheless decided to carry on.

Apart from the toll on Aireen's health, some of the farmers from Ugnayan ng Mga Nagsasariling Lokal na Organisasyon sa Kanayunan (UNORKA) and Task Force Mapalad (TFM), both people's organisation helping farmers to claim ownership of land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), who joined the run since December 1 had to reconsider joining on the fourth day.

Farmers from UNORKA, including the elderly, decided not to join; and some of whom began to suffer severe muscle pain, and their legs began to swell and became numb. While the farmers from TFM are themselves ready to resume the run on the fourth day they had to reconsider due to concerns that their health may deteriorate if not given a day rest.

Also, heavy downpours prevented the overly exhausted farmers from resuming the run.

Though the farmers has not been able to make it on the fourth day Reyes pledged to complete the run of 157-kilometres even the farmers would be not able to join him.

"Naiintindihan ko ang paghihirap ng magsasaka dahil sanay sila magbanat ng buto sa sakahan, at hindi tumakbo sa lansangan, ngunit nangako ako na tapusin ang 157 na kilometro kaya tatapusin ko; kung kinakailangan hanggang Hong Kong, (I understand what farmers had to endure because they are use to working hard at farms and not to run on streets. However, I have promised to complete the 157 kilometre even if it means completing it in Hong Kong)” Reyes said.

Reyes is also the programme officer of the AHRC's Religious Groups for Human Rights (RGHR) in Hong Kong.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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