Children of peasant leader who died of COVID-19 in detention sue cops

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Children of peasant leader who died of COVID-19 in detention sue cops
Handout photo shows Joseph Canlas during a rally against the Anti-Terrorism Law at the Supreme Court in February 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The two children of detained peasant leader Joseph Canlas who died of COVID-19 while in detention filed reckless imprudence resulting in homicide raps against police and jail officers over their supposed neglect that led to their father’s death.

Jenelle Tenessy Canlas Buan and Joseph Cordova Canlas on Wednesday filed criminal and administrative complaints against Police Col. Edwin Balles, chief of the regional Criminal Investigation Group Regional Field Unit (CIDG RFU 3), Police Maj. Alfredo Agbuya Jr., chief of investigation branch of CIDG RFU and Jail Chief Supt. Lyndon Torres, regional director of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology Regional Office-III.

Also facing complaints are the following officers:

  • JSupt. Rebecca Manalo-Tiguelo, warden of the Angeles City District Jail (ACDJ) Male Dormitory
  • SJO3 Caroline Sanchez, chief nurse of the ACDJ
  • JO1 Ma. Christine Boucher, jail staff nurse of the ACDJ

“It is undisputed that the respondents in this case failed to perform acts which could have prevented the loss of life resulting from infection of the SARS-COV-2 virus,” they said in their complaint.

Arrest and detention, without COVID-19 test

Canlas, vice chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, was arrested on March 30 and was charged with illegal possession of firearms, which their family and colleagues claim are trumped-up. Prior to his arrest, the peasant leader was red-tagged.

The complainants said the person in charge of Canlas while detained knew of his history of hypertension, which makes him at high-risk of contracting COVID-19.

He was later brought to detention cell at Camp Julian Olivas, San Fernando City, Pampanga for 15 days. On April 15, Canlas was moved to ACDJ of BJMP Region 3, but he was first placed in a quarantine facility packed with 90 to 100 detainees until May 7 — beyond the 14-day mandatory quarantine.

On May 7, Canlas called his wife who shared that the former was mumbling. The following day, they received a text message from a relative of the family who is detained at the ACDJ informing them that he was worried of Canlas who is “unresponsive.”

A jail nurse checked on Canlas’ condition the following day, upon request of the complainant, but told the family that the detainee was fine. Canlas was only rushed to the hospital in the evening of May 8.

Canlas died on May 11 morning. The clinical impression/diagnosis showed that he had “acute respiratory failure sec. to COVID 19 pneumonia critical.”

 “Hence, there is no denying the blatant, unconscionable neglect of duty gleaned from the series of events starting from the time of his detention at the CIDG RFU 3 in San Fernando City, Pampanga, until his commitment to the Angeles City District Jail of the BJMP Region 3 in Angeles City, Pampanga where he was quarantined,” the complaint read.

Criminal and administrative complaints

Canlas children filed reckless imprudence resulting in homicide under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code.

They stressed that they already informed the respondents that Canlas is at high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to his medical history of hypertension and diabetes. But even while CIDG officers admitted there was possible contamination in the facility, Canlas was not tested.

“The respondents completely failed to prevent the infection from spreading when they neglected to conduct testing among the PDLs, in particular those newly detained or committed detainees, in order to identify and isolate those positive for SARS-COV-2 virus,” they said.

ACDJ officers are also accused of failing to monitor Canlas’ health condition while he was staying in their facility.

“Had the jail personnel dutifully monitored and assessed his condition, and the other inmates in quarantine for that matter, they would have been apprised of this situation and have taken proper medical action,” they said.

They also filed complaints of violation of RA 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act. In particular, they accused the respondents of violating the following:

  • Section 9(c) on non-operation of the disease surveillance and response systems for failing to capture and verify notifiable diseases of public health concern and providence accurate information to appropriate agencies
  • Section 9(d) on non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report or respond to a notifiable disease

They also filed complaints of grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, gross ignorance of the law, inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duty, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

“The inaction of the BJMP officials from the time he showed signs of serious illness on May 7, 2021 until they brought him to a hospital in the evening of May 8, 2021, was fatal to Mr. Canlas, and are indications that BJMP officials committed criminal negligence for their said inactions,” the complaint also read.

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