ASCENT in Alternative “Flores de Mayo”

ASCENT participated in the “Protesta de Mayo Laban sa Tiraniya” held on May 26, 2018 at the University of the Philippines (UP) – Diliman. Sponsored by Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), featuring a different kind of Flores de Mayo, the traditional festivity held every end of May in most Philippine parishes.

ASCENT staff members and supporters carried placards calling for the release of its Convenor and Senior Consultant, Benito Quilloy, and Project Staff, Rita Espinoza. They also marched around the grandstand in the Sunken Garden of UP Diliman along with the sagalas flanked by teenagers and children.

Issues that were tackled through the sagalas in decorated arches included the defense of press freedom, the Duterte government’s drug war victims, human rights violations against activists, peace advocates and development workers, Martial law in Mindanao and the injustice against political prisoners.

Miranda Dacillo, Karapatan’s volunteer wore a gown designed by Rey Asis and Jani Llave. She symbolized the extrajudicial killings of journalists and varied ways of curtailment of the freedom of expression. Deborah Escudero wore a Filipiniana dress with red paint and bullet holes to signify the drug war victims including her brother Ephraim. Maria Teresa Romano paraded a gown with a hand painted drawing of Gabriela Silang. Meanwhile, Gleeza Joy Belandres’ gown had a traditional Manobo blouse and long skirt with an artwork showing the indigenous peoples’ fight for their ancestral domain and right to self-determination. Daughter of political detainee and peace consultant Rafael Baylosis and partner of Marklen Maojo Maga, Eleanor de Guzman, symbolized the injustice suffered by political prisoners who were illegally arrested and detained amidst dismal jail conditions.

This procession was likewise organized by women human rights activists for the #BabaeAko #LalabanAko campaign in protest of President Rodrigo Duterte’s sexism and misogyny. #



Ben and Rita: When development workers are illegally arrested and detained

(This article was originally published in

Both Ben and Rita started out in the student movement against the then Marcos dictatorship and never wavered in their commitment to work for the rural poor.


MANILA — On October 19, 2017, two workers of Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) were forcibly taken by about 10 armed members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The ASCENT team led by Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza were in San Carlos, Negros Occidental to conduct a series of consultation with the members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW). They conducted an environmental scanning and had workshops to identify appropriate development projects for members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), an ASCENT partner organization.

After having their lunch at Tingting’s Restaurant in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, Ben and Rita, along with ASCENT’s project consultant and driver, were apprehended by the combined PNP-AFP members. They were not presented any warrant of arrest. They were handcuffed, blindfolded and brought to the Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. in Bacolod City.

The ASCENT project consultant then contacted the human rights organization Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) to ask for help while the driver asked the management of the restaurant to call for the police. The latter arrived after about five minutes. Two of the about 15 members of the Kabankalan police rode with the project consultant and driver in ASCENT’s rented car and started to go after the two vehicles separately carrying Benito and Rita.

However, the chase stopped when the Kabankalan police reportedly received information that the previous PNP-AFP action is a legitimate operation. They then asked the two ASCENT staff for a statement on what happened. Still shaken with fear, they pleaded with the police to release them so that they can go after their colleagues who appeared to be abducted. One of the policemen then gave the ASCENT driver a piece of paper with the words “Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr., Bacolod City”. He told him that their co-workers would be brought to that place.

They then hurriedly left and parked at the Himamaylan Public Market so that they could be easily located. By then the project consultant already got word from the human rights organization Karapatan that a lawyer was already on the way to meet them. Atty. Benjamin Ramos of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) – Kabankalan arrived with two of his staff members. After listening to the account of the ASCENT project consultant and driver, Atty. Ramos instructed his two staff members to accompany the latter to proceed to Bacolod City.

Upon arriving in Bacolod City, the ASCENT personnel met with representatives of people’s organizations who were mobilized by the local Karapatan chapter. They decided to go to Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. where they came to know from the other PO representatives who were already there that there were two lawyers trying to get inside the camp.

The PO representatives told the ASCENT staff to go to a nearby restaurant where they will be briefed by Atty. Cesar Beloria Jr. who earlier was asserting to the authorities in Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. to let him talk to his clients Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza. Beloria was tapped by Karapatan to help out in the case of Quilloy and Espinoza.

Denial of the right to counsel

Beloria assured the ASCENT staff that their co-workers were inside the camp with Benito inside a cell while Rita was handcuffed and staying in a room. He said that they were obviously denied counsel and that his source of information regarding their condition is a journalist who was allowed to enter the camp.

The lawyer also advised the ASCENT staff and the other members of people’s organizations representatives to get some rest. He said that he would be back the following day to provide the necessary legal assistance to Benito and Rita.

The following day October 20, Ben and Rita were allowed to see their lawyers but only for a short time. It was only on October 21 that they were able to talk to Atty. Beloria and Atty. Maria Sol Taule from KARAPATAN for about 30 minutes. Still, no charges were presented to the lawyers. Authorities at the camp said that they were not in possession of the charges or the documents on these. The lawyers told them that they should be informed if ever there should be an inquest.

In the afternoon of that day, Benito and Rita were brought to Kabankalan for an inquest where the two refused to sign any document, asserting that they are not the ones cited in the documents presented to them. And at 11 p.m., on the last commercial flight from Bacolod to Manila, they were brought to Camp Crame in Cubao, Quezon City where they continue to be detained. Ben’s and Rita’s lawyers were not informed of all these activities involving their clients.

On October 24, 2017, former PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa presented Ben and Rita in a press conference. He claimed that they are high-ranking members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). He cited them as Louie Antonio Martinez, the alleged logistics officer of the NPA and Aurora Cayon, allegedly a member of the National Finance Commission of the CPP. Ben and Rita have denied these allegations.

Development work

Similar to other political prisoners, Ben and Rita are accused of criminal offenses. They have been charged with illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions in Kabankalan. Ben is facing a murder charge filed in Agusan del Sur while Rita is facing a robbery and arson case also in Agusan del Sur. She also has murder case in Sibugay, Zamboanga.

Ben lacks only a few credits to complete his Sugar Technology (Batch 1970) course from the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB). He became president of the UPLB Chemical Society and was one of the founders of the Ecological Society of the Philippines.

Retired UP Professor Edward Deveza who has known Ben for about 40 years remembers him as a young student who lived and worked among the sugar workers in Negros Occidental.

“It was his experience with them that made the most impact on him and made him decide to work full-time among the farmers first as a scientist and technologist and eventually as a development worker engaged in the planning and implementation of support service programs,” Deveza said.

Rita, meanwhile, was a volunteer staff of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines from 2000-2007 when Sr. Patricia Fox was its national coordinator.

Sister Pat recalled, “I saw how dedicated and hard working Rita is. She was with us in the planning and implementation of development projects such as agricultural production and swine raising.”

Both Ben and Rita started out in the student movement against the then Marcos dictatorship and never wavered in their commitment to work for the rural poor. Seeing that development workers like themselves were experiencing human rights violations, they were among a handful of people who came up with the concept for ASCENT.

The need to promote genuine development and defend development projects and development workers became a necessity as development workers, among them Emerito Samarca of the Alternative Learning Center for Livelihood and Agricultural Development (ALCADEV) and Willem Geertman of the Alay Bayan Incorporated (ABI), were being killed. Many others are facing harassment and intimidation allegedly from government operatives who consider these people as engaging in anti-government activities.

One of life’s ironies is when the ones who have consistently work for the poor and marginalized are being accused of fabricated charges, vilified and made to languish in jail.

ASCENT’s Convenor and Senior Consultant Benito Quilloy and Project Staff Rita Espinoza are among these people. They are hardly unknown among development workers especially from the ASCENT national network.

Bishop Dindo Ranojo, ASCENT’s spokesperson said, “They could be anyone of our staff, anyone of us. It is a challenge and also an opportunity to further strengthen our resolve. We have fear but we have greater commitment to continue our work for genuine development with the poor and oppressed. Because we are Ben and Rita.”


(A poem by Benito Quilloy, ASCENT’s Senior Consultant, on the cross-stitch done by Rita Espinoza, ASCENT’s Project Staff. They are currently detained in Camp Crame, Quezon City on trumped-up charges.)

Libu-libong maliliit na parisukat
Sa telang parang banig
Na may takdang sukat
Isang tusok ng karayom
Bawat parisukat
Taglay ang tatlong suson
Ng sinulid na makulay
Pinuputol ng panggupit ng kuko
Kapalit ng bawal na gunting
Sa liwanag ng ilaw
Maghapo’t magdamag na may silaw
Sa loob ng maliit na kuwarto
Yari sa kableng bakal
Ito ay cross-stitch sa loob ng piitan
Sa una’y dekorasyon
At pampalipas-oras ang layon
Pampawi ng pangungulila’t depresyon
Sa saliw ng tawanan at kwentuhan
Umaasam ng kalayaan.

Isang tusok, isang hila
Patak ng pawis ang katumbas
Bumubuhay sa makabayang damdamin
Bawat hakbang sa bukid at parang
Sa hampas ng maso sa pandayan
Paggapas ng kawit sa palayan
Paghagis ng lambat sa laot
Maghapong nakatayo sa pagtuturo
Sa mga batang sabik matuto
At sa lahat ng karaniwang taong
Nakikibaka para mabuhay
Sila’y inspirasyon sa paglikha ng sining
Naglalarawan ng katotohanan
Ng ating panahon
At gisingin ang konsensya ng mundo: paghihirap at sakripisyo
Tagumpay at kasawian
Ligaya’t lungkot
Ng pagmamahal sa bayan, anak at kasama
Sa piitan, mabilis ang daloy ng panahon
Paglipas nito, sining biswal na obra ang nalilikha
Daluyan ng mapanlikha’t
Makapangyarihang mensahe ng pag-asa.
Ito ang cross-stitch, isang sining ng pakikibaka.

(This poem also appears in

Statement on the BI’s arrest of Sr. Pat Fox

We condemn the arrest and detention of Sr. Patricia Fox of the Sisters of Sion Congregation at the Bureau of Immigration (BI). She has stood up for the cause of the Filipino poor especially the landless peasants, agricultural workers, and indigenous peoples, and has tirelessly worked for genuine development through her engagement as former National Coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and current Board Member of the Tahanan ng Pag-asa, an organization that advocates for community-based programs for the elderly. As a participant to countless fact-finding and medical missions in the Philippines for more than two decades, Sr. Pat has also led the way for church people to perform their prophetic mission of being with and working for the poor.

She has also been most supportive of the newly organized Free Ben and Rita Now alliance which calls for the release of ASCENT’s Convenor and Senior Consultant Benito Quilloy and Project Staff Member Rita Espinoza. It is most unjust that her many years of adherence and assertion for human rights and social justice alongside the poor and marginalized has resulted to this humiliating and degrading action of detention at the BI office in Intramuros, Manila.

ASCENT calls for the immediate release of Sr. Patricia Fox who does not deserve this kind of treatment in the country that she has selflessly served for the past 27 years. Any kind of deportation order is most unkind as she has grown to love, nurture and fight for the rights of poor and oppressed Filipinos.

Sr. Pat of All Seasons

Development workers and political activists who work for national organizations in the Philippines will certainly know the Australian missionary, Sr. Patricia Fox, NDS. She speaks Filipino, rides the jeepney and the MRT regularly, and has been involved in most national issues for the past 27 years — genuine agrarian reform, right to self-determination of the indigenous peoples, churchpeople’s rights, right to development, women’s empowerment and a host of many other issues. As one friend laughingly said, “She is everywhere and we do not know in what sector she belongs — She can be with the peasants in Hacienda Luisita this week and with the churchpeople in a rally the following week. And after that she will be with the indigenous peoples somewhere in Mindanao. Then she holds consultations with co-founders of a program for the elderly.”

Her stamina and energy defies her age (71) and her commitment and dedication to the causes she advocates is admirable. During a medical mission to a Yolanda-affected community in Northern Samar, she braved the almost 24 hour travel and put to shame the younger delegates of the medical mission while climbing the mountain on the way to the community. Angeli Mercado, a twentysomething medical student who was with Sr. Pat’s group observed that “I had more difficulty catching up compared to her”.

Developing and Establishing Organizations

Sr. Pat, as she is fondly called, is no ordinary missionary nun. She is also a lawyer and has led the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) from 2000-2007. During her time she immersed herself in the issues of the landless peasants, agricultural workers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples.She steered RMP to provide support services to its constituencies including agricultural production, trainings in project management, self help undertakings and organizational development.

Sr. Pat believed that apart from the land issue, the peasantry face the constant challenge of inadequate support services and inputs for their productivity.Along with her colleagues in RMP, they launched serious attempts of mobilizing church people towards developing projects and programs for farmer’s and indigenous peoples communities. This, she did side by side with capacity building of RMP chapters. Recognizing the need to further strengthen RMP she spearheaded trainings and activities for organizational development. Regular evaluations were likewise undertaken for more accurate planning inputs.

Sr. Pat would surprise even herself when she began a modest alternative program for the elderly who have spent most of their lives for nationalist and progressive causes. Along with like-minded individuals from the academe, church and the medical and health profession, they would establish the Tahanan ng Pag-asa (TNP). It fights for the rights of the elderly and advocates a community-based elderly program.

Upon hearing that ASCENT Convenor and Senior Consultant Benito Quilloy and Program Staff Member Rita Espinosa were arrested on trumped-up charges, Sr. Pat was also among the first ones to extend her support to ASCENT. She is an active member of the Free Ben and Rita Now alliance. In a strange twist, she now finds herself also illegally arrested and detained for participating in rallies. ASCENT’s members and volunteers are sure to raise protest over this.

The nun who knows no season in coming to the aid of the poorest of the poor will absolutely be defended and protected by those whose rights and interests she selflessly fought for.