Uphold the truth, respect the law and free scientist Kim Gargar

FishieLast October 1, members of the 67th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) arrested my husband Kim Ajeas Gargar in Mati, Davao del Sur. At the time of his arrest, Kim was in the third month of his research on the impact of Typhoon Pablo on the diversity in Mindanao. On October 24, the will arraign Kim on the preposterous charges of two counts of attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms and violation of the gun ban implemented as part of the impending baranggay elections.
I have spent the more than a decade of my life as a human rights advocate, writing about the civil, political and human rights of workers, urban poor and other marginalized sectors of Philippine society. As a writer and an alternative journalist, I have documented and written reports of many events and issues that prove the wretchedness and depravity of the political and economic system that controls this country. I have already written profiles and stories of ordinary working class Filipinos who struggle against all odds to assert their rights and defend their dignity against the inhumanity of anti-people and anti-poor policies and actions of state institutions and agencies.
Never for the life of me did I ever think that I would one day write about my own husband being accused of common crimes by the military.
IDBy all accounts, Kim is a civilian. He is an academic, a researcher and a scientist. From first grade to the time he graduated magna cum laude in physics, he has done nothing but excel in academic pursuits. He could have focused his energies on getting rich, but instead he chose to be a scientist with a social conscience; instead of working for some transnational company, he chose to teach. Instead of staying in the Netherlands where he was a scholar from January 2009 to December 2012, he decided to return to the Philippines and work for the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), a non-governmental organization that champions the cause of a sustainable environment for the Filipino people. Kim’s work in Mindanao was made possible through the coordination between the CEC and its affiliate PANALIPDAN-Southern Mindanao. Kim’s expertise on research and science was expected to make the project research successful and useful as it will help in plans and efforts to rehabilitate of communities devastated by Typhoon Pablo.
I wish I could say that I am surprised that the AFP arrested him when they found him hurt at the bottom of a waterfall that fateful morning on October 1. When he heard gunfire sometime around 2am that morning, Kim hurriedly left the hut where he had been staying on his own as he did his research on nocturnal life in the forest. It was pitch dark and he could barely see the front of his hand when he waved it in front of his eyes. Of course he was afraid, of course he panicked. Disoriented, he made a wrong turn and fell 20 feet, hurting his leg and cutting his forehead on large rocks and stones at the bottom of a small waterfall.
When the military found him, they automatically accused him of being a member of the New People’s Army despite his immediate explanations that he was a scientist doing research. Nevermind that he had no weapon; nevermind that he had identification cards proving who he was; nevermind that he had concrete proof of the data he was gathering including pictures in his camera. He was an NPA in the eyes of the military — soldiers are always eager to show that they had done their duty to capture rebels, nevermind if they were actually only innocent civilians.
It’s hard to put into words the outrage and indignation I felt when I learned how the military had forced Kim to make a false confession that he was a member of the NPA. Hungry, cold, sleep-deprived with a broken leg and a possible concussion, Kim was surrounded by at least 15 soldiers in full-battle gear and forced to say that he was an NPA member. The military arranged various paraphernalia — an M-16 rifle, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), blasting caps, and all other materials that he could not describe and shot a video of him saying that he was NPA. There he was, my husband who’s afraid of firecrackers, a man so clumsy that one time when I was a guest on Manolo Quezon’s old ANC show “The Explainer” he almost knocked down two six-feet tall studio lamps, there he was accused of carrying and firing a gun, handling land mines, murdering civilians.
Kim has explained — a little shamefacedly– that he gave his false admission under extreme duress. I don’t blame him, I probably would’ve admitted to countless crimes myself if I had been in his position. It would have been very hard to keep calm and level-headed when you are well-aware that you could get summarily executed anytime or disappeared forever if you didn’t obey orders from the AFP.
I don’t know how else to argue that Kim is an ordinary civilian (and a brilliant scientific mind). Do I present our marriage certificate that proves that the ceremony was officiated by no less than House Speaker Sonny Belmonte when he was still mayor of Quezon City in May 2005? Do I show the passport that shows that he arrived in the country only on January 2, 2013 when the AFP alleges that he has been in the boondocks with the NPA since 2012? Should I write that he is sorry for having missed the developments in the plot of My Husband’s Lover which he was really interested in when it debuted in May just before he left for Mindanao? I really don’t know. But what I do know is that the soldiers and military officials who arrested him and violated his human rights while breaking many other provisions of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) protecting civilians are lying through their teeth.
What was he doing in the forest and alone? Is it really so hard to accept the truth that he was doing research? A fisherman casts his net at 3am miles from the shore, and no one questions him. Kim — a scientist just like Dr. Leonard Co before him — was in the forest documenting nocturnal habits of wildlife, and automatically he is an NPA, a legitimate target and no questions asked. Even if he was able to explain all about circadian clocks, climate change effects, soil erosion caused by mining etc., etc., the soldiers wouldn’t have paid attention. Truly, to be a patriotic scientist in this country is a thankless job.
Kim is not the first civilian to be accused and framed by the military of being an NPA member. In its ruthless campaign to present itself as winning in the battle against the insurgency, the AFP continues to terrorize, abduct, disappear and kill civilians and present them to the media as bona-fide NPAs. The fact that they did not kill Kim outright when they found him hurt and helpless is not a credit to the AFP– it is the law, it is part of IHL that they do not harm anyone wounded and unarmed.
CollagesSo now, with all the calmness and dignity I can muster, I demand on our five-year old daughter’s behalf that the Aquino government release my husband, political detainee and scientist Kim Gargar from prison and dismiss all the ridiculous charges against him. Arresting innocent civilians does nothing to improve the image of this government in the eyes of the international human rights community and the rest of the world.
The last time he was home with our daughter was in early June. They drew marine animals, folded paper cranes and ate ice cream. When he told her goodbye, he explained that he was again leaving for work and that he would be home in time for Christmas and they would watch animated films all day in his laptop. Now, four months later, Kim is in jail, her daughter is missing him, and I don’t know what happened to his laptop.
I haven’t told our daughter where her father really is. As far as she knows, he is still in Holland, that cold far-away country where she herself lived for a time with both her parents. While I have already started bit by bit to explain to her the nature of Philippine society and how injustice is suffered by the poor on a minute-by-minute basis in this country, I am unable to begin to tell her that her own father is a victim of the same unjust system. The way she also is a victim, being denied him, his love and protection by the government that refuses to uphold the law, much less the principles of truth and justice.
On October 24, I can only hope that the court in Lupon Municipality, Davao Oriental goes against the tide and the defies the pressure of the military; I hope Judge Emilio Dayanghirang III does what is moral, legal, right and just and frees my daughter’s father, scientist and civilian Kim Gargar.


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