“I would like to think that the real reason I am being detained – indefinitely if the kingpins of national security have their way – is that somehow I am contributing my share to the people’s struggles to overhaul this unjust and undemocratic system. Only diehard reactionaries would condemn this as a criminal act.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Family, friends and fellow peace advocates of detained peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Rey Claro Casambre gathered at the University of the Philippines on Jan. 19 to press for his just and immediate release.
“Many testify to Rey’s pluck as a tenacious peace advocate, who has steadfastly worked to open lines of communication and helop resolve impasses in the peace negotiations. Despite the false charges against him, Rey has continued to illuminate the peace process and encourage peace advocates, calling for them not simply to campaign for his release, but to also push for the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations that address the roots of the armed conflict in the Philippines,” the petition of the Unite for Just Peace! Free Rey Casambre! read.
Casambre, a long-time peace advocate, is one of the consultants of the NDFP Negotiating Panel in its peace negotiation with the Philippine government, where he is considered an expert and often sought for media interviews.
However, around midnight of Dec. 7, Casambre and his wife and fellow activist Patricia Corazon Mercado were arrested and consequently charged with illegal possesion of firearms and explosives. Cora was later ordered released by the Cavite Prosecutor’s office pending further investigation but Casambre remained in detention due to a separate murder and attempted murder charges against him and several others filed before a court in Davao Oriental.
A scientist and teacher
Casambre was a physics graduate from the University of the Philippines. He later taught Physics and Mathematics at UP Baguio, where he met and married fellow Math instructor Mercado, dearly referred by many as Cora.
His classmate and close friend Ibarra Guttierez said in a short message during the program that Casambre has always been a teacher. Whenever they would meet, he would tell him stories of how he taught children about the solar system while stargazing.
“He has always been a teacher. He is a kind of teacher who can change your life and your perspective,” he said in Filipino, adding in jest that whenever Casambre will visit him, “he would always bring reading materials. So when he leaves, I have homework to do.”
Her sister Sr. Aida, on the other hand, said Casambre could have taken a more comfortable lifestyle as either a doctor, lawyer, professor, scientist, or even a Jesuit priest. She realized that while he was neither a lawyer nor a doctor as what their family had in mind, he did to the marginalized and oppresed, wherever his advocacy took him.
“He chose to stay with the farmers, with the urban centers, those who are pushed away from their own home and land to give peace a chance,” Sr. Aida said.
Not the first time to be imprisoned
In many years as an activist and peace advocate, Casambre has become a frequent target of red-baiting and charged of trumped-up charges.
“I would like to think that the real reason I am being detained – indefinitely if the kingpins of national security have their way – is that somehow I am contributing my share to the people’s struggles to overhaul this unjust and undemocratic system. Only diehard reactionaries would condemn this as a criminal act,” Casambre said in a statement read during the program.
Casambre was first arrested in 1971, following former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ suspension of the privilege to the writ of habeas corpus and interrogated regarding the Plaza Miranda. Two decades later, in 1971, he and wife Cora was arrested and detained for six months, where they were charged with illegal possesion of firearms and explosives.
In 2006, he was among those charged of “constinuing rebellion,” along with the six other lawmakers, collectively known as the “Batasan 6.” About 12 years later, he was once again vilified as an officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, which the Duterte administration seeks to proscribe as a terrorist organization in a petition they filed before a Manila court.
He was also among those named as behind the purported “Red October,” which the government said was a plan to oust Duterte.
“One may be tempted to say such absurdities are not uncommon in the realm of military intelligence. Or rather the failure, if not the dearth of it. But no, this most recent attack leading to my arrests erases all doubts that these so-called guardians of the Republic and the Constitution will sink to any depth to serve their real masters,” Casambre said.
Public Interest Law Center managing counsel Rachel Pastores shared during the gathering that Casambre remains incarcerated over a murder and attempted murder charges in relation to an armed encounter that supposedly took place on September 13, 2018 in a remote village in Lupon, Davao Oriental.
In the testimony of one of the soldier who survived the incident, he saw a man he identified as “alias Rey Claro Casambre” shooting them at a distance of six to eight meters.
“Alias pa lang yan ha. Hindi pa full name,” quipped Pastores.
On the day prior to the purported armed encounter, Casambre was among those invited to speak before a committee hearing of the House of Representatives, regarding the resolution filed by progressive lawmakers calling for the resumption of the peace negotiations.
In the evening, Casambre, in his message during the program, said he also attended a dinner gathering with lawyers and a politician.
The circumstances of the said incident defy logic, said Pastores, adding that the charges were filed against Casambre in an effort to silence him.
Casambre said “this betrays a high-level sinister though crude design to put me behind pars by twisting the law and perjuring the judicial process.”
“In anticipation of the flimsy charges being dismissed eventually, the usual fabrication of illegal possession of firearms and explosives was set up and resorted to,” he said, adding that he had underestimated the “cruelty and vileness” of the “so-called protectors of the people.”
Call for his release is an opportunity to mobilize for peace
During the gathering, newly-released peace consultant Rafael Baylosis showed his certificate of dismissal, following the dismissal of charges against him and his companion. However,
As of this writing, there are seven peace consultants languishing in jail, despite their supposed immune from arrests as enshrined in a document signed between the Philippine government and the NDFP dubbed as the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.
Meanwhile, Aron Halfen of the Norwegian Ecumenical Peace Platform said in a message read during the program that the “peace movement in the Philippines must not be deterred by these wrongful actions.”
“Now is the time for mobilization and to stand stronger together,” Halfen added.
Casambre, for his part, said, “my fervent wish is that this gathering will somehow, in various ways, in the short, middle, and long run, contribute to frustrating the designs of those who wish to perpectuate the status quo, and to the building of a truly free, democratic, and just Philippine society.”