At 55, political prisoner Eduardo Serrano still has not stopped learning. He recounts the lessons he learned while living with the Mangyans, when he was arrested, and now while in jail. He even decided to take his master’s degree while behind bars.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Vol. VIII, No. 9, April 6-12, 2008
He was as upbeat as a teenager when his childhood friend, George, showed up at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame. Wearing black shorts, leather sandals and his customary orange shirt with the words “Free All Political Prisoners,” Eduardo Serrano jumped up and down and hugged his friend whom he had not seen since 1995.
After a few minutes of the usual kumustahan (greetings), Serrano started to update his friend on what had led him behind bars, from his arrest on May 2, 2004 at the Batangas pier after coming from a consultation with Fidel Agcaoili, member of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Peace Negotiating Panel and co-chairperson of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) for the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights & International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) who was visiting the country then. Serrano is a consultant of the NDFP from the province of Mindoro Oriental, an island south of Manila.
Serrano has been in jail for almost four years. He spent three years and three months inside the Calapan Provincial Jail in Mindoro Oriental and was transferred here in Camp Crame in August 2007. He is facing four multiple-murder charges and a kidnapping charge at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. There are also two cases of murder filed against him at the Pinamalayan court in Mindoro Oriental. Serrano said his lawyers are working on consolidating his cases. “At dapat igiit na political crime ang ikaso sa akin” (We must assert that I be charged with political crimes), he said.
While in Calapan, Serrano said he was busy doing handicrafts (jewelry boxes, photo frames) and joined a kite festival in 2005 where his design (a replica of the NDFP flag) was displayed in jail. He also befriended most if not all prisoners, including prison guards, with his knack for curing common ailments with the use of acupuncture, a Chinese medical procedure he learned during his early years as a New People’s Army guerRilla in the 1980s.
Serrano said he was bored in Camp Crame as handicraft making and the use of acupuncture was prohibited. But he busies himself now taking up a masters degree in Environmental and Natural Resources Management under the open university program of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). He is now in his second semester. He has four semesters to go to finish his 36 units. Serrano graduated with a degree in Animal Science and Agriculture at the state university in the 1970s.
A native of Naga City, the city capital of the province of Camarines Sur, Serrano said he never stopped learning especially from the more than 20 years he spent with the Mangyans of Mindoro. Simplicity of life, honesty, equal distribution of wealth and proper care for the forest are the lessons he cherishes from the Mangyans. “Hindi marunong magsinungaling ang mga katutubo” (Indigenous peoples do not lie), he said.
He was also part of the Melito Glor Command – the NPA custodial team of then Army Maj. Noel Buan – who was in their custody for 19 months. Serrano said it was an arduous task but fulfilling indeed because the NPA has proven that it could hold a military officer in custody while respecting his rights as a prisoner of war.
During his own captivity, Serrano said he has learned to keep his composure and hold on to his principles even at the most trying times. “Akala ko masa-salvage na ako” (I thought I would be salvaged [a term popularized during Martial Law to refer to extrajudicial killings]) he said when he talked about his arrest. He remembers being accosted, pushed into a van and being driven through rough roads from Batangas to the province of Cavite until he was brought to the military headquarters in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.
The soldiers who arrested him was supposedly ordered to transfer him to the Calapan Provincial Jail but he was instead taken to the headquarters of the Army’s 204th Infantry Battalion in the municipality of Naujan in Mindoro Oriental purportedly because of “security risks.” He was detained there for six days until he was finally transferred to the Calapan Provincial Jail where he stayed until August 2007.
Counting on the youth
Serrano sports a three-inch beard that he grew since the Garci Tapes scandal in 2005. “Aalisin ko lang ito pag bumaba na si GMA” (I will only shave this when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo steps down), he said.
The political prisoner counts on the youth as the strength of the campaign to oust President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “Napakabilis ng pinakita nilang kasiglahan,” (They immediately showed a lot of energy.) Serrano said as he noticed the growing number of students and out-of-school youths who have rallied for the ouster of the president.
He challenges the youth to take on the challenges of their generation. “Pag panahon mo hindi ka dapat magpabaya” (When it is your time to take a stand and act, you should not be complacent), he said, but cautions them to be well prepared for the government’s final blow. “Kailangan din paghandaan ang ganti ng gobyerno. Ang dragon pag mamamatay na may huling hagupit ‘yan” ( We should be prepared for the counter-attack of the government. A dragon that is about to die would still strike), he said. (Bulatlat.com)