Myles Albasin, 21. (Photo courtesy of Arkibong Bayan)
Church groups in the southern Philippines have taken up the cause of a young woman accused of being a communist rebel fighter by the military.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines condemned the arrest last week of Myles Albasin, 21, who used to work as an intern for the religious organization.
Albasin, a native of Cagayan de Oro City, was arrested with six others in a village in Negros Oriental province on March 2.
The military filed charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against her and her companions.
In a radio interview, Albasin claimed she was in the village to work with local farmers. She denied that firearms seized by soldiers belonged to her or her companions.
Albasin, a native of Cagayan de Oro City, graduated from the University of the Philippines last year and became secretary-general of the youth group Anakbayan.
"We are aggrieved that the response of the state, and the people quick to judge her actions, had been to accuse her of being a terrorist," said Ailene Villarosa, coordinator of the Rural Missionaries.
Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte classified the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army, as a terrorist organization.
"We are angry that empathy with the poor and working for their betterment has become the definition of anti-state activities," said Villarosa.
"We saw her love for the downtrodden and oppressed in the few months she was with us, assigned to assist our advocacy work for indigenous peoples," she added.
Albasin's mother, Grace, also denied that her daughter is a member of the guerrilla group.
"She was there for an immersion with the farmers," Grace said. She admitted her daughter joined leftist groups as a student but stressed, "there's nothing wrong with that."
In a statement, the ecumenical group Promotion of Church People's Response bemoaned the arrest of Albasin and her companions.
The group called for an investigation into the military's claims because it might be a "publicity stunt" against individuals and groups "committed to the cause of social justice and genuine peace."
The church group appealed to the Philippine government and rebel National Democratic Front of the Philippines to resume peace talks "to address the root-causes of the armed conflict."
Peace negotiations were called off last year after the two sides failed to agree on ceasefire conditions.
Military spokesman, Col. Medel Aguilar, insisted that Myles and her companions were communist rebels.
"Saying that the suspects are not members of the [rebel group] is nothing but their claims. Let them prove that they know better than our troops who were in the area," said the military official.