This weekend’s post is slightly different from the other stories I blogged about. In remembrance of the then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos‘ declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines, Time Travelling is featuring an interview of Jigger Geverola, a post-dictatorship political detainee, who has been languishing in prison since May 2004 on charges of rebellion and arson. The Philippine military claims that Jigger Geverola is a high ranking officer of the communist guerrilla movement.
More than 6 years ago, he was caught together with Ronald Sendrijas while visiting his parents in Argao, Cebu, Jigger’s hometown. Sendrijas was later released after spending years in jail but a few months after his freedom, unidentified assassins gunned him down–a fate shared by many activists and journalists in the Philippines these days.
Students of the University of San Carlos in the early 1990’s however remember Jigger Geverola more as a tireless student activist. With a calm yet determined demeanor, he was a frequent discussant in student fora and was articulate in bringing student issues before the university administration. Jigger was also a favorite photo icon during rallies for the local press: he was always seen on the news waving a flag on roofs of jeepneys or exhorting fellow protesters to continue with the march. This concern for social issues suited well with the courses he took during his college days. A sociology/anthropology major, Jigger was (and, I believe, still is) well-versed in the discourses on development politics, sociological/anthropological theories, and the like. For him, however, academic learning was stale compared to his involvement in the everyday politics of the Filipino people–where issues of corruption, land monopoly, and imperialist globalization are lived and are not mere academic concepts.
Without further ado, here’s Time Travelling’s short interview with Jigger Geverola, 33-year old activist and political detainee, from behind the prison bars of Lahug, Cebu City:
Time Travelling: What got you interested in social issues and activism?
Jigger Geverola: I was brought up by a loving, young, poor peasant couple at a small and mountainous barrio in Argao, Cebu (central Philippines). My father started tending the farms at an early age and my mother came from a middle peasant family. They were able to reach high school but were not able to proceed to college. They were tenants in a small parcel of land and, to complement the family budget, they did odd jobs in the towns and cities and also did seasonal farm work. I remembered that our situation was really dire.
As the eldest of 3 siblings, I helped in the farm and household chores. I was assigned to tend the farm animals we had. Although life was hard, this very conditions of poverty strengthened the family bond. Industriousness was encouraged and so was austerity. Then in the 1990’s, due to a combination of perseverance and luck, my parents were hired in a local mining firm which alleviated our economic situation. For this reason, my parents were able to send me to University of San Carlos to take up BS Chemistry and then I shifted to AB Sociology/Anthropology.
With this background, it was easy for me to comprehend the local issues inside the campus and connect this to much bigger and broader social concerns. I strived to mould and hone my viewpoint, stand, and perspective through political education, group discussions at the round table (a site where university activists gather), integration with the peasants and workers, joining mass actions, and engaging in organizing work. These activities helped in raising my level of militancy.
Time Travelling: What made you decide to join the revolutionary underground movement?
Jigger Geverola: I decline to have an answer on this topic. This may prejudice the ongoing trial of trumped up cases filed against me.
Time Travelling: How long have you been in prison? On what charges? Did you experience torture?
Jigger Geverola: I have been incarcerated for more than 6 years already. Initially, I was falsely charged with four counts of murder, frustrated murder, and two counts of arson. But through court battle, the charges were downgraded to two simple rebellion and one arson charge.
I didn’t suffer any direct physical torture, but psychologically/mentally, yes. During the time of my captivity last 26 May 2004, I was blindfolded, underwent continuous interrogation, and was deprived of a lawyer’s assistance for almost 48 hours. They repeatedly tried to incriminate me and some legal personalities to the underground and armed revolutionary movement. I vehemently denied all of their accusations. At that moment, in spite of all the psychological stress, I was well-prepared and ready to face the consequences. I was very composed and present-minded. I did not feel any fear. All I did was accept, afterall, acceptance is the name of the game in this situation.
Time Travelling: What is life like for a political detainee? How do you fight boredom? Do you have regrets?
Jigger Geverola: For me, boredom is just a confluence of all negativity and pessimism. It is manifested also in the inability to accept the realities of life and putting too much expectations on one’s self. I simply fight boredom by appreciating anything that happens around me. I set routine activities for myself, even the smallest things are planned. I also find ways to exercise and get some sweat. Most importantly, I strive to maintain a positive attitude and I always keep a smile while avoiding their watchful eyes at the same time (i.e., referring to the guards).
I do not feel any remorse at all. I take this opportunity to deeply discover and search the inner depths of my soul, explore my spirituality, and know more about myself (my character and personality).
Time Travelling: Has your prison experience changed your political beliefs?
Jigger Geverola: Of course, it did not. I am strongly convinced on the correctness of the national democratic struggle, aspirations, and perspective. The recent worsening global disorder, the chronic national socioeconomic crisis, and the egregious exploitation of the basic masses justify the need for more extensive, intensive, and comprehensive people’s collective action and struggle.
Time Travelling: What do you think of the current Aquino administration? Given that the current president is a son of a political prisoner, do you think he’ll grant you release? If ever released, what are your future plans?
Jigger Geverola: Benigno Aquino III‘s administration still represents the ruling class and the oligarchy in the Philippines. Like his mother (i.e., Corazon Aquino), he is also bound to fail in transcending his landlord class interest. The current regime remains subservient to the dictates and policies of foreign monopoly capitalism. This regime will try to differentiate itself from the previous Arroyo regime by portraying itself as more democratic, less corrupt, transparent, and pro-people government. But there is nothing new to expect. It is just the same dog with a different collar.
Not only as a son of a former political prisoner but as the highest executive official in the land, Aquino can grant the release of any political detainee by recognizance. Unfortunately, Aquino opted to follow the judiciary department and let the case roll at its own course (i.e., which in the Philippines is very slow). Indecisiveness has been Aquino’s number one weakness.
Yet I am optimistic that sooner or later i will be free again, a much stronger and better person at the end. It is early to call what will happen in the future. I believe I can draw a lot of lessons from my vast, golden, and meaningful experience. There’s still a lot of unfinished business that I have to attend to, puzzles to be solved, and missing links to be addressed–especially in matters of family, university education, and spirituality. In other words, the battle is still there and I will confront this head on.
Time Travelling: What is your message to your fellow activists?
Jigger Geverola: This is my simple message to the activists: MAG-ARAL, MAGLINGKOD, MAKIBAKA HUWAG MATAKOT!!! (Study, Serve the People, and Struggle Fearlessly!)