Freed on bail: Kim Gargar describes life in jail as teacher, scientist, political detainee

In the press conference, the Free Kim Gargar (FKG) Alliance also reiterated that while Kim’s colleagues, family and friends are welcoming his release on bail, demands for the court to drop all trumped-up charges against Kim still stand.


MANILA – Scientist Kim Gargar went on a research mission in aid of rehabilitation of Pablo-devastated areas a year ago in Mindanao. But far from being welcomed by the government, his project was met with suspicion. He got nearly killed when government soldiers mistook him for a rebel belonging with the New People’s Army.

He was subsequently detained and presented as a “captured” rebel, until the campaign launched by his colleagues and by environmental defenders for his release prompted the local court to grant his bail petition last week, 10 months since he was wrongfully arrested.

He left Davao Oriental and Baganga jail late last week thinner than when he first arrived at the island. Asked for any bright side in his personal tragedy, he said, after thinking about it, that if anything, detention has effectively rid him of surplus weight.

The happy professor (Photo by Kodao Production)
The happy professor (Photo by Kodao Production)

He had set out intending to find various ways with which communities can better rehabilitate their farms and livelihood after Pablo, but his scientific inquiry was forcibly broadened by his ‘arrest.’ Now, on top of life stories of farming families eking out a living on fields devastated not just by Pablo but, before that, continuously by large-scale mining and logging, he also got some life stories of people forced to resort to petty crimes for survival. And, like what he underwent, Gargar got a taste, too, of how it is to become a “political detainee.”

For his colleagues at AGHAM (Advocates of Science for the People), he is just a scientist wanting to contribute what he knows for the environment and the people dependent on it. Is it inconceivable that people like him would do that? Is doing that a predilection reserved only for members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), as the state military accusations would suggest?

“Kim’s ordeal exposes the prevalence of the Aquino government‘s utter disregard for environmental defenders in the country,” said Leon Dulce, spokesman of Task Force- Justice for Environmental Defenders (TF-JED). “Aside from abandoning its duty to ensure the safety of our people and the integrity of our environment, advocates like Kim are met with repression and rights violation,” Dulce added.

Although TF-JED welcomes Gargar’s release, on bail, they rail at the fact that he will have to still face trial for what they call as trumped-up cases. These cases lodged against Gargar allege his connection to the revolutionary movement, all stemming from his unfortunate encounter with soldiers on October 1 last year in Aliwagwag village of Cateel, Davao Oriental. Gargar was charged with illegal possession of explosives, several counts of attempted and frustrated murder and violation of Comelec gun ban.

In a statement by Agham (Advocates of Science for the People), of which Gargar is a member, the Baganga Regional Trial Court found the testimonies of witnesses against him to be “full of material inconsistencies,” leading to Kim Gargar being allowed to post bail.

Anticipating torture, the worst experience

Kim Gargar told that the first six hours after he was “arrested” or “captured” or kept in custody by the military had been the worst of his experiences in the last 10 months.

With all the news about what the military have allegedly perpetrated to both suspected and confirmed members of the rebel movement, Gargar feared he might suffer torture under their hands. Surrounded by friends who welcomed him after coming back to Manila last Friday, he tried to make light of these first six hours. But he recalled, as he marked the passing time in those first six hours, he would tell himself, “Oh, I’m still alive.”

Another Filipino scientist who was mistaken by soldiers as a rebel suffered a worse fate. Famed botanist Leonard Co and his companions were taking plant samples in the forest of Kananga, Leyte in November, 2011, for a job commissioned by the Energy Development Corporation, when the military fired upon his group, the Task Force-Justice for Environmental Defenders (TF-JED) said in a statement.

Fortunately, in Gargar’s case, he survived because, as he sees it, either the police suddenly became insistent on getting him under police custody (in compliance with the law), or the Free Kim Gargar campaign had been quick in their campaign for his release.

Public awareness of Gargar’s arrest may have helped to spring him from whatever fate had in store for him at the military’s temporary command post in Aliwagwag village the first night he was taken by the military at gunpoint.

That day, the state forces had been in a firefight with suspected New People’s Army (NPA) guerillas. The NPA’s reportedly got away, so the government troops were presumed to not be in any good mood especially against one of its suspected enemies.

Gargar said the military’s plan had been for him to stay in the military camp after his “arrest”. But the police took custody of him six hours after the soldiers got him.

Since then, as the police and more people learned about the case of mistaken arrest — that Gargar is a scientist on field work, and not an NPA as the military alleged – conditions in prison started to relax for Gargar.

Of the four jail cells in Banganga, Kim was placed in minimum security, affording him the chance to walk around the compound, spend hours reading books sent him by his family and colleagues. He said his jail time helped him speed up his reading skills.

While news reports chronicle fights in jails, Gargar said he could recall only three major fights in the jail during the 10 months he was incarcerated. The worst happened in one of the three maximum security jails, where an inmate was stabbed with an icepick. He had to be brought to the Mati Hospital, but its facilities proved inadequate for his emergency needs. So, he was moved into a hospital in Tagum City where there is an X-Ray machine. He survived the ordeal.

Gargar noted how the icepick rumble gave the jail management a huge headache – it stretched the jail’s resources to the utmost, he said. They had to provide guards in the hospital, expenses, transportation.

Gargar said he had never been bored in jail, because he always looks for ways to beat boredom. He had tried to help some of his fellow inmates to learn to read and write, but the conditions in jail prevented them from pursuing it, he said. They had no materials, for one.

He said some policemen agreed he could not have been an NPA. He has very poor vision without his thick eyeglasses, how could he have survived the rigors of NPA life? Asked the more practical policemen.

Another practical question hounds the military allegations of Gargar’s NPA links, according to his colleagues. Gargar was studying for his PhD in a specialized branch of biology at Groningen University in the Netherlands, and he has taught at UP Diliman – how did he manage to have the time to live as an NPA amid the required studying?

The military also accused him of having carried single-handedly a 27-kilo explosive, but according to Agham, even the court doubted this. Soldiers themselves said it took a lot of their men to carry that weight. Are the soldiers alleging then that the NPA members have super-human strength, on top of nobility at wanting to serve the poor despite having good scholastic backgrounds?

After survival and detention, the fight to clear his name

Task Force Justice for Environmental Defenders (TFJED) spokesperson Leon Dulce emphasized in a press conference Saturday, Aug. 9, that “the case of Kim is an example of the hostility of the Aquino government toward people who are either pushing for genuine reforms or opposing the current policies and projects of the state.” The group has monitored at least 37 killings of environmental defenders and development workers who until now have not been granted justice.

In the press conference, the Free Kim Gargar (FKG) Alliance also reiterated that while Kim’s colleagues, family and friends are welcoming his release on bail, demands for the court to drop all trumped-up charges against Kim still stand.

Aside from Kim, there are others in detention right now who, the alliance said, should not have been in detention since it is not illegal to seek reforms and justice.

The FKG campaign vows to continue to call on the Aquino government to uphold human rights and release all the political prisoners in the country. (

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