William Claver was among those who attended the July 28 memorial mass that honored the late Alyce Omengan-Claver, a victim of extra-judicial killing in an ambush that originally intended to kill her husband, Dr. Constancio “Chandu” Claver, last year. He is esteemed throughout the Cordillera as a champion of indigenous peoples’ rights.
BY LYN V. RAMO
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 26, August 5-11, 2007
TABUK, KALINGA – William Claver was among those who attended the July 28 memorial mass that honored the late Alyce Omengan-Claver, a victim of extra-judicial killing in an ambush that originally intended to kill her husband, Dr. Constancio “Chandu” Claver, last year.
The lawyer, who appeared younger with his no-hair look, did not speak before church-goers. He was silent throughout the hour-long mass at the Philippine Episcopal Church, occasionally wiping his eyes. He was served the Holy host on his wheelchair positioned right behind the last pew.
As old man Billy viewed his nephew Chandu on a wide screen speaking of the heroism displayed by his late wife Alyce, he closes his eyes once in a while as if to relish every word of admiration Chandu had for his beloved wife.
The lawyer was brought home some 50 meters from the church and by mid-afternoon, the caregiver would tell his visitors the old man might be fast asleep. He then checked on him, and within a few minutes, he ushered us into a bachelor’s quarters that old man Billy calls his home.
“How can I be of help to you when I am confined to this wheelchair and this room?” he would tell his young visitors. He told them he would constantly get news from the television, and read books (“no longer law books, excuse me,” he says) piled neatly by his bedside overhead shelves. “Oftentimes I would sit in that couch,” he points to a nearby couch by the other end of the room, farther from the bed and the TV set.
As he received his visitors, a team from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), he said, “This is not an ordinary occasion because I am being visited by so many young friends,” referring especially to a group of journalists, social scientists, development workers, doctors, and Cordillera activists, like Chandu and the late Alyce.
In the next hour, he would struggle to tell what he knew about the Kalingas and their struggles for land; the local politics; the regional human rights situation and many more. He narrates the history of the Rizal, Kalinga land problem from his own perspective as a landowner. It is noteworthy that he knew even the size of the conflict area by heart. He vividly described the changing access to the landholdings that was formerly controlled by the Madrigals.
“I only heard of the news where nine were killed from the side of those in the barracks,” he said referring to the Philippine National Police (PNP). “Ket innaynayon da pay ti NPA gaputa iButbut ken i-Balbalan dagita” (They even dragged the name of the New People’s Army [NPA] in the conflict because the people are from Butbut and Balbalan), Claver lamented.
Rhoda Dalang, executive director of the Dinteg Alternative Law Center, showed an invitation for the general assembly of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) in Cebu, which Claver politely declined – saying he wanted to see Cebu again but his frail condition does not allow travel by air. Claver said he is very sick with a certain type of diabetes: he pointed to his right arm, which was tied to the wheelchair lest “it would just keep punching my face.” His feet and arms were wrapped in cloth because “they are cold and feel like (they are) being skinned.”
Champion of indigenous peoples’ rights
Claver lawyered not only for the Kalingas in the celebrated case against the building of the Chico River Dam Project in the 1970s. He would figure in many other human rights cases involving the peoples of the Cordillera.
In 1980, then Sen. Jose W. Diokno was quoted in a symposium on civil liberties in Bontoc, Mountain Province as saying “Senator (Lorenzo) Tañada, Attorney Claver and I are members of an organization called the Free legal Assistance Group (FLAG). There are 117 of us but unfortunately for your region, we have only Attorney Claver, and he is overworked.”