Freed political prisoner calls for release of Cotabato farmers

“They do not deserve to be in jail just like other political prisoners, whose rights have been violated from the very beginning.”

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Recently-released political prisoner Voltaire Guray should be rejoicing as he left jail, but he instead found himself furious at the unjust detention of the latest set of political prisoners: the 79 protesting farmers in Kidapawan city, North Cotabato.

“The killing of the protesting farmers in Kidapawan is very enraging. They were asking for rice because their crops were destroyed from months of drought, and this is what they get?” Guray told Bulatlat, inflamed at his own undeserved incarceration.

Guray, 29, had been detained for the past four years at the Special Intensive Care Area inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. He learned of the Kidapawan killing from television news reports while in detention.

Last March 29, Judge Kevin Narce Vivero of the Antipolo Regional Trial Court Branch 71 granted Guray’s bail petition. He posted his bail for illegal possession of explosives and ammunition on April 8 and 11, respectively, amounting to P45,000 ($975).

He was released on April 12.

Guray said that beyond the issue of bail, the Cotabato farmers should not even be detained in the first place.

“They do not deserve to be in jail just like other political prisoners, whose rights have been violated from the very beginning. Charges against the farmers should be dismissed immediately,” he said.

Last April 1, state security forces opened fired on protesting farmers in Kidapawan City, killing at least two and injuring dozens others. Police arrested 79 protesters farmers, including three pregnant women and six elderly, who were charged with direct assault.

Unlawful arrest

Guray with one of his paintings, which was inspired by a photo of alternative news Southern Tagalog Exposure on the protesting farmers of Bondoc Peninsula taken some years back  (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
Guray with one of his paintings, which was inspired by a photo of alternative news Southern Tagalog Exposure on the protesting farmers of Bondoc Peninsula taken some years back (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
Guray was arrested on Jan. 13, 2012 in Antipolo City. He was charged with illegal possession of explosives and ammunitions.

“I was a youth activist in the area during my arrest. I was new there, helping provide a literacy program for Dumagat farmers. Then, there came news that there were members of New People’s Army and because I was an outsider, state security forces came for me,” he said.

Then only 25, Guray was brought to the custodial center of the Antipolo police, where he was detained for four days. Then, he was brought to SICA in Camp Bagong Diwa.

Guray said he found the first few months difficult, with limited ways to contact his family and friends. It did not help that the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) prevented Guray, an artist, from bringing painting materials.

“During the first year, I always wanted to see my family. I was growing impatient. But later on, I finally found out what I can do while inside prison and I saw the bigger picture,” he said.

Later, the BJMP allowed painting materials to be brought for his use while in detention. He said his paintings depicted the dire social realities confronting the Filipino people.

“It is difficult to complain of the dire predicament inside SICA when I know that detainees and prisoners in other detention centers are facing way harsher conditions,” he said.

Guray joined various campaigns of his fellow political prisoners in their effort to improve the conditions inside the detention center. They struggled for their rights to have sunning and exercises every morning, which the BJMP eventually granted.

Apart from that, political prisoners also held protests and a hunger strike. They held an indignation protest for the death of baby Diona Andrea, the newly-born daughter of then detained Andrea Rosal. They also staged a hunger strike during Pope Francis’ visit in early 2015.

On posting bail

For four years, Guray said state security forces attempted to pin him down with their supposed “strong evidence” against him. But he said only his arresting officer took the witness stand and without the explosives and ammunition Guray supposedly had in his possession.

He added that not even the custodian of the supposed evidence against him took the witness stand.

“This is the basis for the granting of my bail,” he said.

Asked if he felt that the last four years went to waste, Guray said no. “Perhaps if I sulked and rendered myself useless, then I can say that the last four years of my life was wasted. But I and the rest of the political prisoners did not. Even inside prison, we remained part of the mass movement.”

“After all, we are (living) proof that rights are being violated under this government,” he said.

The case against Guray has yet to be dismissed. Hearings are set until the end of the year. In between, he said, he would be busy extending help to fellow political prisoners for their inevitable freedom. ()

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