By XANDRA CASAMBRE BISENIO
It has been two years since the administration spun lies to detain peace consultant Rey Casambre.
The Duterte government fabricated tales to be able to imprison 69-year-old Rey. Planting evidence and filing made-up charges against cause-oriented individuals has been the administration’s same tact with its victims of harassment, vilification and even execution. But instead of using people’s money to terror-tag and detain peace advocates like Rey, shouldn’t the state just pay attention on solving poverty, inequality, and unpeace in the country?
Rey is executive director of the Philippine Peace Center that lent services to the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front. He was a teacher, physicist, social activist and peacemaker who spent the last three decades on peace study, research, and advocacy. He was a sought-after resource person by the media, churches, civil society institutions, and universities here and abroad on the peace process and resolving conflicts.
In the dead of night on December 6 two years ago, Rey and 72-year-old wife Cora were less than 10 minutes away from their Cavite home when several police vehicles cut them on the then empty Molino Boulevard. The police would not stop pounding on their car’s windows with their revolver guns, ordering them to alight. Fearing they might be executed ala-tokhang, they got off but were made to stay away from their car for some time. Some barangay tanods then arrived. Soon the police were announcing that a firearm, an explosive and detonator were discovered in the dashboard compartment of their vehicle. The fiscal found this evidence to be ‘preposterous’ and ordered Cora’s release.
They kept Rey jailed because he had another case. This was in Lupon, Davao Oriental, where he has never set foot until case trial started after over a year in prison. Yet he was charged with murder and attempted murder against government troops in an alleged encounter between them and the New People’s Army (NPA). The main witness, an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) soldier, claimed there were sightings of Rey and two more as elderly as himself, in the mountains on the night before the supposed crime.
A few hours later, at 5AM, the AFP soldier said Rey and his co-elderly who were allegedly all in black and fully-armed with long rifles attacked government troops, resulting in the said crimes. Rey’s counsels have however exposed the witness to be lying as one of the elderly identified was not in the country at all when the alleged crime took place. The absurdity of Rey’s participation in the crime is also highlighted by the fact that he had been in meetings with government officials, lawmakers and other peace constituents in the House of Representatives and Metro Manila, a good many hours’ flight and drive to remote Lupon.
It thus appears that the fantastic stories are as cunningly spun as other lies to turn social and peace activists into criminals in the eyes of the public, then to tag them as terrorists, so as to make persecuting or killing them acceptable. This however underestimates, nay, belittles Filipinos’ consciousness and understanding of reason and logic. Known to many – from friends and kin to the academe, churches, communities, factories, organizations and alliances with whom they closely work – Rey and his fellow political prisoners, persecuted activists and rights advocates are clearly for justice-based peace and progress, and never for tyranny nor terrorism.
It is becoming more and more evident that the State wields tyranny and terrorism to prevent change advocated by activists like Rey: an end to poverty and inequality, the Philippines being able to run its own political and economic affairs with the people actively participating in decision making, with the people benefiting by enjoying the wide range of their social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights.
Duterte’s government turned its back on tackling how to concretely pursue a just and lasting peace through concrete, achievable social and economic reforms. Instead, it is now on a high scale Php19-billion-worth red-and-terror-tagging, persecution and liquidation campaign versus change advocates like Rey. This is in line with the proposed Php4.3-trillion national budget for 2021 that prioritizes programs that advance big and foreign business and vested interests more than addressing the needs of the majority of Filipinos amid the pandemic, persistent calamities, joblessness, precarious incomes, and perennially inadequate services.
But as long as the state fails to reverse the situation into one that favors the many in terms of basic rights and needs, including self-determination and sovereignty, there will always be those to speak up, to stand up for their fellowmen, to fight for their rights. It would do well for government to listen and dialogue with instead of attempting to obliterate change advocates. This only leaves more blood in the administration’s hands. Millions would benefit from actual reforms in the economy and from a truly democratic governance.
On a last note, Rey’s Lupon case has been transferred to Quezon City, as ordered by the Supreme Court. This is in response to counsels and family’s plea for transfer of case venue due to the cost, burden and stresses on Rey and his kin, counsels, and friends of seeing the very remote Davao case through. Partial transfer requires Rey to waive his right to physically appear and defend himself should any case proceeding transpire in Davao. The Quezon City judge meanwhile informed the lawyers that whatever transpires in Quezon City will be reported back to Davao. Rey’s case of illegal possession of firearms and explosives meanwhile likewise pends. Indeed it is most difficult to deal with a justice system if it is intricately intertwined with an unjust social system.
The odds keep piling up and bearing on us heavily but angels surround us and embolden us to keep moving forward. Would one now still wonder why we haven’t stopped crying for freedom literally and figuratively.
The author is the daughter of peace consultant Rey Casambre. This piece was originally posted in her Facebook account. Reposted by Bulatlat with permission.