THE human rights monitor Barug Katungod Mindanao is calling on the Department of Justice to look into the illegal arrest and detention of a lumad leader in Bukidnon province over falsified charges of murder.

Higaonon Jerry Caringas, who is known for defending the rights and welfare of workers and farmers in his town of Malaybalay, is now languishing in jail after he was arrested on May 17 while walking in downtown Malaybalay with his wife.

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He is now detained at the Bureau of Jail and Management Philippines (BJMP) in Malaybalay. Caringas, 49 years old, is married with one daughter, aged 16.

Barug Katungod Mindanao's documentation of the case indicate that Caringas is facing murder and attempted murder charges which were filed October 2009 in Malaybalay. The cases alleged that the lumad leader, along with two others, participated in a raid conducted by the New People's Army in a military detachment.

Prior to his arrest, the lumad leader did not even receive a subpoena from the court where he was to respond to the charges. And his suffering does end there because his pre-trial has been scheduled this coming October because of lack of judges in Malaybalay.

The Union of Peoples' Lawyers in Mindanao is assisting Caringas.

Bishop Felixberto Calang, convenor of Barug Katungod Mindanao, said the arrest of Caringas was apparently designed to stop him and scare the farmers and workers he is working with.

"There can be no denying that people behind the arrest of Caringas are out there to stop him from the good things that he is doing for the farmers and workers of Malaybalay. His arrest was also meant to send the chilling message of fear to the same farmers and workers he has been working with before his arrest," Calang said.

Calang said that the arrest of Caringas is still part of the government's anti-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya that did not only "fail in its purpose of defeated the insurgency but also took its deadly claws on civilians who were suspected of being supporters, if not members, of the revolutionary movement."

"This is happening all over the country. We see civilians being accused as communist members and supporters and this is all because the desperation and failure of the government in implementing Oplan Bantay Laya," Calang said.

Calang said the DOJ, now headed by Leila de Lima, must look at the case of Caringas and many other civilians who are facing detention based on trumped-up charges.

"The people must see the brand of transformation that the new government is brandishing to the public now. For DOJ, it must look at these cases immediately and face the challenge of proving that justice is for those who need justice the most like Caringas," Calang said.

Caringas has been an active people's defender, having served as secretary general of the lumad alliance in Northern Mindanao, Kalumbay from 2004 to 2007. He also sits as council member of KAMP (Coalition of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines).

As an indigenous leader of Kalumbay, Caringas led the communities in campaigns against development aggression operations such as large-scale mining and logging, and the military operations that accompany these activities. His group also put up literacy and numeracy schools for Lumads in his community. (PR)