“He can’t commit murder because we do not even kill for food!”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — On Feb. 12, state forces arrested Ferdinand Castillo, branded him as a high-ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and accused him of illegal possession of firearms and heinous crimes, such as murder and attempted murder.
Colleagues and family of the 57-year-old veteran activist decried the charges as fabricated, because they have known Ferdinand as a gentle soul.
Ferdinand’s wife, lactation expert and breastfeeding advocate Nona Andaya-Castillo was aghast upon learning about the charges. “He can’t commit murder because we do not even kill for food!”
Ferdinand has been a vegan since 1995. He has malaria, gout, rheumatic heart disease, transient ischemic attack (TIA) also known as mini-stroke, colon bleeding and hypertension. Nona said the fatal consequences of these illnesses are only kept at bay with a diet of indigenous fruits and vegetables.
“We both agree that if not for him, I would be dead by now because through him I learned how to eat vegetables. Through me, he was able to totally avoid eating meat so he said I have also saved his life,” Nona told Bulatlat in an online interview.
Besides being vegan, Nona said she and Ferdinand share a great love for the country. Both are immersed in their voluntary work, albeit with different advocacies.
Ferdinand entered the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1976. He became a member of the League of Filipino students and Kagimongan, a support group for Cagayan Valley that campaigned against the harassment of farmers in the province.
In 1985, Ferdinand returned to his province and became a co-founder of the Cagayan Valley Human Rights Organization, a member of the Northern Luzon Human Rights Organization and the Social Action Center in Isabela. He helped establish the local chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and led the organizing of Sakbayan, a protest caravan from Cagayan Valley to Manila to support the opening of peace talks between the Aquino administration and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in 1986.
In 1996, while recovering from rheumatic heart disease, he went back to UP to finish his BS Mathematics major in Actuarial Science. After graduation, he turned down several job offers from companies and chose to become a campaigner of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) NCR in 1997.
Supportive husband, loving father
Nona said Ferdinand would find time to share his computer knowhow and other skills to Nurturers of the Earth, an NGO she founded in 2004 that promotes earth-friendly parenting and lifestyle supporting families in breastfeeding and indigenous vegan diet. With Ferdinand’s help, they organized classes and trainings for urban poor mothers in Metro Manila.
At home, Ferdinand is handy in the kitchen. As soon as he has whipped up a meal, he would text his wife to come home soon.
Ferdinand also knows how to keep cool whenever Nona is brewing up a storm. “When I talk and raise my voice, he would give me a naughty smile and say ‘Are you quarreling with me?’ ”
Nona said Ferdinand is an expert masseuse. “He loves watching me fall asleep while he massages me and even tells me about it the next day,” Nona said.
Ferdinand loves music, and it was this quality which attracted Nona, who confessed she first took a crush on him when he played “Time in a bottle” at the boarding house where she lived.
His musical interest ranges from folk and country to the classics. One time, he downloaded 10 versions of Pachelbel from YouTube, including a rock version, and repeatedly played it at home.
It was also Ferdinand who taught their daughter Belle how to play the guitar.
Belle, a member of the UP Singing Ambassadors, told Bulatlat that she got majority of her music influences from her father. She has fond memories as a child, listening to her father play songs on his guitar by musical giants Jim Croce, Bread, and Simon and Garfunkel.
But one memory is still clear in her mind about how her father showed his faith in her and taught her to have confidence.
“I vividly remember the day he taught me how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. I was seven. While practicing at our backyard, he was behind me, holding the seat so that I wouldn’t fall down. I kept shouting “Tatay, wag kang bibitaw, ha?” He told me not to worry, he’s just there. When I finally finished my first lap without losing my balance, I turned to smile at him, but he wasn’t behind me. He was a few feet away, beaming,” Belle recalled.
Belle, now 28, said that while there are some things that she and her father do not agree on, she learned from him “the general principles of giving and serving the country, of selflessness.”
Nona has started an online petition appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to release her husband on humanitarian grounds. She said Ferdinand’s serious ailments may worsen in detention.(Link of petition here)
Bayan-NCR chairperson Raymond Palatino said the charges implicating Ferdinand to an alleged encounter between the Army’s 85th Infantry Battalion and New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas in Lopez, Quezon on March 24, 2014 are ridiculous.
Palatino said Castillo has been in Metro Manila for so long, involved in various campaigns, such as against the demolition of urban poor communities and against the privatization of public markets.
Ferdinand is just one of 19 activists arrested in a span of 10 days, said human rights alliance Karapatan.
The arrests and detention of political activists heightened after Duterte cancelled the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the NDFP.
There are more than 300 political prisoners in the country, according to Karapatan.