Free NDFP peace consultant Tirso “Ka Bart” Alcantara!

Tirso Alcantara, 62 years old, is better known as the legendary New People's Army (NPA) commander "Ka Bart." He is one of the 22 National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants, who has been detained since his arrest in early 2011.
Even before his arrest, foul fascist acts had been viciously waged against his family. 

His brothers, Bartolome and Virgilio, were murdered by state military forces in February 1981 and May 2001, respectively. “Ka Bart” used his nom de guerre in memory of his brother Bartolome.

Other members of Ka Bart's family have not been spared from constant state military surveillance, harassment and threats. 

his daughter, Ma. Lourdes, was arrested based on false accusations, three years ahead of Ka Bart, and detained for eight years in Palawan. She was released only last year, after having proven in court her innocence in the trumped-up charges against her. 

Vicious, close-to-death acts against Ka Bart 

On January 4, 2011, more than a dozen state military operatives arrested Ka Bart in Lucena City, Quezon Province, while he was on his way to meet with some members of his family. He was brutally beaten up, and as he was forced to lie down facing the floor, he was intently shot at the area of his rectum. He was bleeding profusely when blindfolded and hogtied by Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) military operatives, and transferred to the SOLCOM headquarters in Lucena City.

Right after he was brought to SOLCOM, they transferred him from one unknown location to another. Soldiers threatened to salvage him and dump his body in a remote area. One of his military escorts burned his arm and legs with a lighted cigarette while a cocked gun is pointed at his head.

The following day, then SOLCOM chief, Lt.Gen. Roland Detabali, and other state military officials presented Ka Bart to the media as a trophy of what they termed as a "successful military operation" by the SOLCOM.

Continuing torture even in hospitals

Hospital doctors and nurses in the V. Luna Medical Center in Quezon City denied him sufficient medical attention and treated him inhumanely, when he was brought to the said hospital after the SOLCOM press conference. Ka Bart was handcuffed to his bed all throughout his stay, and was always surrounded by soldiers inside and outside the room. The gunshot wounds he suffered were not seriously treated; in fact his wounds became swollen and more painful with rough and improper cleaning methods of hospital personnel. The blood transfused into him also caused him allergy and dizziness. Even the catheter inserted into his private parts caused bleeding and infection.

When he was transferred to the Philippine Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, loud sounds from a construction area outside the building and frequent barging of soldiers in and out of the room kept disturbing his sleep and prevented him from getting enough rest. 

As soon as he was brought out of the Fort Bonifacio General Hospital, he was taken direct to Lucena City for a court order for his detention, even without knowledge of his counsels. Ka Bart protested the move, saying he was weak and ill that time and that his legal counsels should be present, but they dismissed his protests.

Repressive situation inside jail

On January 21, 2011, more than two weeks after his arrest, Ka Bart was transferred to an isolation cell at the Maximum Security Detention Unit (MSDU) in Fort Bonifacio. For nearly two years, Ka Bart was held in solitary confinement and was deprived of his basic rights. 

The military jail authorities imposed unreasonable restrictions on his visitors. Rules at the MSDU allowed only one visitor from religious groups per detainee. Even peace advocates and bishops from Pilgrims for Peace were denied permission to visit Ka Bart. 

Karapatan rights workers were also barred from visiting him and checking up on his situation. MSDU officials said Karapatan needed to secure military clearance first before being allowed to visit inmates there. For no reason, his brother-in-law was also not allowed to visit him. 

Ka Bart's relatives said that every time they visited him, they were made to wait for several hours, blindfolded and brought around unknown areas at the MSDU, before being brought to a place inside the camp, before they see Ka Bart for a few minutes. 

Food, vitamins and other medicines, and other things brought  by his visitors were always held in storage first and subjected to intensive search examinations which will last to several days, before being turned over to him. In many occasions, things brought to him by visitors were not turned over to him at all. While in some instances that he receives them, it was already rancid or rotten.

A complaint filed in court on May 18, 2012 by Alcantara’s lawyers and doctors from the Health Alliance for Human Rights revealed that he was being gradually poisoned. 

He experienced stomach aches, headaches, vomiting, dizzyness and difficulty at sleeping after eating food rations, mixed with certain objects or substances, given to him at the MSDU. Among these are shards of broken glass sprinkled on rice, pieces of matchsticks and/or feces of chicken mixed with the viand, drinking water with menthol-like taste, and salty or bitter objects sprinkled onto the viand, that would cause numbness to his mouth and lips. 

He made pets of cats and kittens roaming the MSDU cells, and used them to test the food rations given to him. Only when the cats survive would he eat the food rations. After three cats fell ill after eating the food rations, Ka Bart stopped eating the food rations, and lived on whatever food his visitors gave him.

Ka Bart was also denied of sunning rights and physical exercise outside his cell.
His legal counsels at the Public Interest Law Center, then led by the late Atty. Romeo T. Capulong, sought for the transfer of Ka Bart's detention to a civilian custodial unit. They presented stories about Ka Bart's experiences of cruelty and threats to his life and health, and cited several violations of Philippine and international laws and protocols, including the 1987 Philippine Constitution, Republic Act 7438 or the law on the rights of detained persons, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 

On November 22, 2012, Ka Bart was transferred to the Metro Manila District Jail-Special Intensive Care Area 1 (SICA 1) in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

Busy and in high spirits under detention

In Camp Bagong Diwa, Ka Bart has kept himself busy by creating art works, writing revolutionary poems and memoirs of his life and struggles. His paintings and handcrafted miniature structures were shown in a recently-held art exhibit of political prisoners at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City.

He continues to take care of Brown, a cat whose mother used to be one of the food tasters of Ka Bart in Fort Bonifacio but died because of the last food ration she ingested. 

Together with other political prisoners, Ka Bart continues to be undaunted, outspoken and defiant against poor jail conditions, arbitrary restrictions, and other gross violations of human and political rights by jail authorities and the government.

For Ka Bart, being a political prisoner is a test one's devotion and service to the people and their rights and interests. It also strengthens one’s commitment to further strive, not only for one's freedom from the iron bars of jail, but also for the liberation of the masses from the bars of oppression.#

(Article contributed by Joseph Cuevas, political prisoner currently detained at the Special Intensive Care Area 1 Jail, Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, 28 July 2016