Each year in the Philippines, many human rights activists receive death threats, and some get killed. To continue working in this hostile environment, activists rely heavily on each other for support. Whether the issue is agrarian reform, corruption, or juvenile detention, human rights defenders are closely connected.  

One of JusticeMaker Jae’s “human rights friends” is Robert Francis Garcia, head of Peace Advocates for Truth, Healing and Justice. They met during an interview that Jae had requested during law school. She was writing a paper on a peace agreement that was signed between the government and the communist insurgency that blossomed during the Marcos dictatorship in the 80s, and wanted to know some extra details. A former guerrilla fighter, Garcia not only shared his opinion; he also told Jae his story:

“When I was a student, I looked up to Jose Maria Sison, Philippines’ communist leader who aspired to be the country’s Mao Zedong. I was infected with youthful idealism and was restless to bring an end to Marcos’ brutal dictatorship. Convinced of the necessity of revolution, I took up arms and joined the communist insurgency.”

Soon, however, his life as a guerrilla fighter turned into a nightmare.

“All my enthusiasm and idealism quickly disappeared the day my own comrades turned against me. I found myself victim of the very ideology I had always supported.”  

During the time of Marcos, the communist insurgency enjoyed considerable support. However, the movement went into disarray in the 1980s, infected with paranoia concerning enemy infiltration. More than 2000 of the movement’s own cadres were falsely suspected as “deep-penetration agents” and were purged.

“For one month, I was chained to a stretcher. We had nothing to eat. We were forced to confess to being spies. If we refused, we would be tortured, or killed.”

 From the over 100 people who were detained with Garcia, 66 will never be able to tell their stories.

Although Garcia was a candidate for extermination, he miraculously survived.  The party’s leadership feared the domino effect that had been created by the false confessions, and began to change its tactics.  Those prisoners who were still alive, were liberated.  

The month Garcia spent in detention proved a turning point in his life.  He began to see the communist insurgency for what it was, and changed direction.  Ever since, he has made great efforts to expose the human rights violations the communist party has perpetrated, apart from those being committed by state agents. In 2001 he published a memoir about his experience, at that time a national best-seller in the Philippines.

Yet Garcia does not regret his actions. “It is part of life’s experience,” he says. “If it would not have happened, I would not be where I am now, fighting for truth and justice.”  Most likely, he would have never gotten to know Jae either.