ILIGAN City, July 20, 2015—The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) has launched an online petition urging President Benigno S. Aquino III (PNoy) to intervene for the immediate release of Joel Yagao, a lay worker who was allegedly unjustly jailed on what appears to be “trumped-up, baseless charges.”
“We, the signatories of this statement, are certain that the cases filed against him are trumped-up, baseless charges, meant only to detain him physically so that he will not be able to continue his work among the poor and the marginalized. We demand for his immediate release—and of Bernas and Gundaya—and for justice to be served to these rural community workers whose only aim is to fulfill their mission to God by serving His people,” says RMP in an open letter to PNoy.
“Justice should be served to rural community workers whose only aim is to fulfill their mission to God by serving His people,” it adds.
For more than five years, Yagao had been actively working for the RMP based in Northern Mindanao Region (RMP-NMR) on community-based land campaigns, particularly in the eastern municipalities of Misamis Oriental.
He was reportedly arrested within the compounds of the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the municipality of Villanueva in Misamis Oriental on Sept. 8, 2013, and was among those charged with murder resulting from the armed encounter between the Communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) and the convoy of Ruthie Guingona, the mayor of Gingoog City.
Husband and father
“In carrying out our work… we are subjected to harassment, threats, accused of being members of the New People’s Army by the government and its law enforcers,” Yagao stated in his open letter to Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines.
At the time of his arrest, he was 44-years old, married, and with two children to support.
As an RMP-NMR lay worker, Yagao had been immersed in rural communities, working with farmers, farm workers, fisher folks, and indigenous peoples who aspire for their own land, to bargain for a better price for their products, and to increase their wages as farm laborers.
“Their small victories over the years have gained the ire of the landowners, and their greater call for genuine agrarian reform, the brand that they are instigating rebellion,” RMP-NMR explains.
The group laments that Yagao continues to languish in jail together with his co-accused Modesto Bernas and Reynaldo Gundaya, both simple farmers.
According to RMP-NMR, the schedules of his hearings are always moved because of the non-appearance of the supposed witnesses to his crime. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)