Free Lorena Sigua! New Zealanders Speak Up For Imprisoned Filipina Educator
New Zealand indigenous rights advocates and community leaders are shocked to hear of the recent arrest, of Lorena Sigua, a Filipina educator, poet and community advocate on a trumped-up murder charge.
In March/April 2018, Sigua took part in a speaking tour of Aotearoa/New Zealand to discuss the Duterte Administration’s attacks on indigenous Lumad schools. Sigua was a volunteer with the Education Development Institute (EDI) in developing curriculum, books and resources for Lumad schools in Mindanao. She also was a volunteer for students at the Lumad Bakwit school at the University of the Philippines-Los Banos, for young people forced to leave their ancestral lands due to militarisation and widespread human rights violations.
“Lorena Sigua impressed audiences in New Zealand with her moving defence of the Lumad schools in the Philippines” said Helen Te Hira, a Māori indigenous rights advocate and one of the organisers of the speaking tour.
During her visit Lorena met Members of Parliament (MPs); representatives from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT); human rights advocates; members of the local Filipino community; Māori leaders and students and staff at Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori and tertiary Wānanga.
“Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori students and staff enjoyed a rich dialogue with Lorena and the delegation as they exchanged experiences around the strategies that Māori and indigenous communities have adopted to build a national movement for language and cultural revitalisation. “
We were particularly disturbed to learn however of the routine harassment and state violence that our Lumad counterparts face, for attempting to educate children in indigenous ways” added Te Hira.
Sigua was arrested on 19 September 2021 in Bulacan, Northern Luzon, and charged with murder for allegedly taking part in an attack by the New People’s Army (NPA) on members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on April 22, 2018, in Agusan Del Sur, Mindanao. However, she was not in Mindanao at this time. Sigua returned to Manila after arriving back from New Zealand on the 6th of April 2018 and on the day of the alleged murder she was attending an indigenous festival ‘Cordillera Day’ in Baguio – 1413km from Agusan.
“We were alarmed to learn that Lorena was denied access to her legal counsel while being interrogated in custody” continued Te Hira.
“Unfortunately, Sigua’s arrest mirrors the arrest of other Filipino educators on trumped up non-bailable charges. These charges are designed to hamper their advocacy” noted trade union leader and prominent Filipino-New Zealander, Dennis Maga.
“The Duterte Administration has launched a horrific crack down on community leaders, activists and educators, reminiscent of its infamous war on drugs. People have been falsely accused of involvement in violence by the NPA and subject to raids by the military and police; illegal arrests on baseless charges and even extrajudicial killings. The Philippine government is deeply embarrassed by activists and educators, like Lorie, documenting and exposing its human rights abuses and neglect of the poor” added Maga.
Given the unjust circumstances facing Lorena we will launch a campaign to support her legal defence and raise our concerns with the New Zealand government, asking them to call upon the Philippine government for her release
“Lorena’s bravery and commitment to a quality education for indigenous communities resonates with the struggles of our people in the kura kaupapa movement. It is abhorrent that her good work, reputation and the communities she serves be slandered in this way. We call for her immediate freedom and the dropping of all trumped-up charges” Te Hira concluded.