Freedom for the Iskolar ng Bayan
submitted on Wed, 07/13/2016 - 13:21
They had simple but big dreams.
Rex Villaflor, 37, was a full scholar of the Department of Science and Technology, and wanted to be an engineer to invent new farm tools and enhance the productivity of farmers in the country.
Joseph Cuevas, 34, 2002-2003 editor in chief of PUP student publication The Catalyst, said he pursues alternative media work to expose corruption in the bureaucracy and the denial of basic social services to the poor.
Immediately after graduation, BA Psychology graduates Guiller Cadano and Gerald Salonga, both 24, of UP Pampanga went to Carranglan, Nueva Ecija to conduct a research project on the plight of farmers, to give back something for the people who, they said, paid for their education.
During their activist years at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Hermogenes "Jun" Reyes Jr.,27 a Cooperative Education major, Jared Morales, 25, a Marketing major, and Marissa Espedido, a Sociology student realized they wanted to serve the peasants and indigenous people whose toil and blood put them through school in their Sintang Paaralan.
For the scholars of the people, big dreams indeed to fulfil, far bigger than themselves, farther than the universities they left.
Dreams became nightmares
These dreams however turned into nightmares when the seven Iskolar ng Bayan from UP and PUP were illegally arrested, on separate occasions, and detained for trumped up criminal charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
All were subjected to interrogation, a euphemism for psychological torture.
Gerald went through a 13-hour interrogation. His captors threatened to harm his mother if he won’t admit that he is a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). He was brought out of the room, told to kneel and feel the dirt on which he will be buried.
In 2011, Jun, Jared, and Marissa helped organize the Dumagat in Tanay, Rizal, an area affected by the construction of the Laiban dam. They were arrested by soldiers of the 59th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army, and were forced to admit they were NPA members. The three were hogtied and blindfolded, repeatedly told to confess if they do not want to be buried in a hole at the army detachment.
Trumped up charges against the bagets
Professional witnesses coddled by the AFP and planted evidence abound in the charges against them.
A witness whipped up a tale that Joseph and his housemates were part of a gun-for-hire gang. Rex's cats and dogs fantastically became guns and explosives in an unsigned and illegally executed inventory of items seized by the military during his and his companions' arrest. Soldiers barged in the farmer's home where Gerald and Guiller were staying and brought in a sack of 9-mm pistols and hand grenades, suddenly accusing them as NPAs. During their questionable inquest proceedings, Jun, Jared and Marissa saw for the first time the weapons allegedly seized from them.
Gerald's mother Rowena, a single parent, recalled, "Dinukot sila ng mga sundalo ng 3rd IB at dinala sa kampo para tortyurin at paaminin sa kasong di nila ginawa." (They were abducted by the 3rd IB and brought to a military camp where they were tortured and coerced to admit to crimes they did not commit)
"Napakalayo po sa katauhan ng kapatid ko na makita siya sa likod ng rehas dahil wala siyang ginawang anumang krimen sa buhay nya," (My brother could not have committed the crimes ascribed to him, he is innocent and he has not committed any crime) Ruth Villaflor, Rex's sister said.
Pleas for freedom
Their relatives continue to hope for the release of their loved ones, with the recent government pronouncements on the resumption of the peacetalks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and release of political prisoners. These aspirations were expressed in their letters addressed to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.
"Matanda na po kaming mag-asawa at parehas na pong may sakit, Mr. President...tulungan nyo pong makalabas at makalaya ng kulungan ang anak namin," (We are old and sickly, Mr. President. Please help our son and release him from prison) said Florencio and Lina Cuevas, parents of Joseph.
Rowena Salonga added in her letter to the President "Mahirap lang po kami at walang kakayahang tapatan ng salapi ang hustisya ... Lumalapit po ako sa inyo para humingi sa tulong sa kalayaan ni Gerald, at umaasa po ako na matutulungan ninyo ang aking anak dahil alam ko po na marami pa siyang matutulungan," (We are poor and we cannot buy justice. I am appealing to you to ask for the freedom of my son, and I hope you can help him because he can help many others when he is released from prison)
Marita Cadano hope and pray that under the Duterte administration, her son Guiller, his companion Gerald and all political prisoners will be released. Her husband Amador, a retired bank employee, recently spoke at a press conference saying "It is but just for our son and all political prisoners to be released. Just and lasting peace can start with the recognition of the wrongs of the past, and will be corrected for justice, real justice, to reign." ###