Joseph Canlas in a coma; KMP blames neglect by jail authorities

Detained Central Luzon-based peasant leader Joseph Canlas tested positive of the dreaded coronavirus disease and is now in a coma in a Pampanga hospital, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said.

The farmers’ group said Canlas has low oxygen levels despite being intubated and connected to a mechanical ventilator since his transfer to the intensive care unit Sunday morning.

Canlas complained of difficulty in breathing and stuttering speech on Saturday, leading his family to suspect he both has Covid and has suffered a stroke.

The veteran land reform advocate, Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon chairperson and KMP vice chairperson, was arrested in Mexico, Pampanga on March 30 on the standard charge of illegal possession of firearms and explosives by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police.

Joseph Canlas after his arrest. (KMP photo)

KMP said Canlas was in stable physical condition before his arrest and detention but his health quickly deteriorated due to neglect by jail authorities as well as severe and miserable jail conditions.

“If jail authorities thoroughly checked Canlas’s health condition, they would have known that he has hypertension and diabetes which makes him more vulnerable to COVID infection,” KMP said.

“If he received proper medical attention while in detention, then the risks could have been lessened,” the group added.

KMP said Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) Angeles District Warden Jail Supt. Rebecca Manalo-Tiguelo belittled Canlas’ initial complaints as well as those of other detainees.

“Last week, Canlas expressed that he was not feeling well but Manalo-Tiguelo simply dismissed Canlas’s ailment as ‘umaarte lang’ (just putting up an act),” KMP said.

The group also said Canlas and fellow detainees were refused Covid testing to determine if they were COVID positive.

“We highly suspect that Joseph Canlas got COVID infected while under quarantine inside BJMP jail facilities,” KMP said.

How he contracted Covid

In a statement, the KMP presented a timeline of Canlas’ health troubles:

March 30 – Canlas was illegally arrested in Barangay Sapang Maisac, Mexico, Pampanga. He was then brought to PNP Camp Olivas in San Fernando, Pampanga;

April 1 – He was transferred and put under quarantine at the CIDG Region 3. While quarantined, he was not allowed to receive visitors even from family members and counsel;

April 15 – After 14 days, he was transferred to the BJMP Detention Center in Angeles City after an X-ray examination. He was listed to be put under quarantine, as BJMP’s facility was full;

April 22 – He was put in BJMP’s quarantine facility, along with 100 or more detainees;

NNARA Youth UP Diliman photo

May 6 – After another 14 days, he was transferred to a regular jail, Selda 25;

May 7 – In a phone call with relatives, Canlas exhibited stuttering in speech. He also exhibited physical weakness and needed help in eating, walking, etc. By night time he had difficulties breathing;

May 8 – On Saturday evening, Canlas was rushed to a hospital in Angeles City due to a possible stroke and low oxygen level (74%, compared to the 95% and higher normal level);

May 9 – On early Sunday morning, he was transferred to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) due to acute respiratory failure and COVID;

May 10 – He is already in a coma, and still has low oxygen levels despite being intubated and connected to a mechanical ventilator.

Human rights groups and activists conducted an online rally on Monday calling for Canlas’ immediate release.

“Ka Joseph does not even deserve a day in detention, yet he is now in a life-threatening situation due to grave government neglect and deprivation of necessary health and medical attention,” KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)