By NORTHERN DISPATCH
BAGUIO CITY — Sherwin De Vera or Weng to most of his friends, a political activist from Ilocos Sur, is now detained at the Abra Provincial Jail after being illegally arrested on December 13 while on his way home in Bantay town. He is facing rebellion charges.
“My arrest is a testament of Duterte’s crackdown of political dissent. The lurking martial law and tyranny is now at hand. Our democracy, our democratic rights are now in clear present danger. We must rise up and oppose this tyranny.” De Vera sent this text message to his coleagues while in detention.
But who is Sherwin De Vera? What is his crime?
De Vera is currently working as a researcher for Katinnulong Daguiti Umili ti Amianan, Inc. (Kaduami) a non-government institution providing assistance to grassroots organizations in Northern Luzon.
He is a known personality in the campaign against blacksand mining in Ilocos and member of the Technical Working Group of the Save the Abra River Project under the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
He has been the subject of surveillance and harassments (SMS barrage) by elements of National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and other state security forces since last July.
On June 20, 2014, agents from the NICA approached one of his relatives and asked about his involvement with progressive organizations and protest rallies in the region. The state agents also insinuated that he had links with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
Threat, harassment and intimidation is not new to him as he has been subjected ti these since his days as a student leader.
Student leader, environmental advocate
De Vera graduated valedictorian in Burgos Memorial School East (BMSE) and First Honorable Mention in Ilocos Sur National High School (ISNHS) in Vigan City. He was the Corps Commander of ISNHS 1997 Corps of Cadets.
He entered the University of the Philippines Los Baños in 1997 where he took up BS Applied Physics and eventually shifted to Agriculture. While in UPLB, he joined the Kappa Epsilon Fraternity where he served as Head of the External Affairs Committee and Lord Keeper of the Scrolls (Secretary).
In 2000, he transferred to the University of Northern Philippines (UNP) in Vigan City and took BS in Environmental Studies (BSES). While studying, De Vera established a fraternity chapter and helped organize the first fraternity council and alliance in UNP – the Peaceful Responsible and Organized Fraternities (Profat) which ended the spate of rumbles and fostered mutual respect and assistance among fraternities.
Under his leadership, the Ilocos Students Alliance – Vanguards of the Environment an organization of BSES students was accredited by the university and was able to seek recognition from the City Council as an environmental NGO. He was also elected Press Relations Officer of the UNP Student Council. He led the walk-out against ROTC and became the Spokesperson of Abolish ROTC Network in Ilocos.
In 2002, De Vera with other progressive students formed the Alliance of Concerned Students-Partido ng Demokratikong Mag-aaral and became its standard bearer in 2002. He was elected President of the UNP Student Council in an overwhelming show of votes.
As SC President, he also served as the Student Regent, representing the students in the university Board. During this period, the UNP-SC and student organizations successfully opposed tuition and other fee increases, exposed issues of abuse and petty-corruption among school officials and demanded for the necessary student services and facilities.
The UNP-SC also sponsored and hosted the First Regional Environmental Summit which gave birth to Malayang Samahan para sa Kalikasan at Bayan and later became part of Save the Abra River Movement (STARM).
He also served as Regional Director of the Philippine Confederation of Student Regents & Trustees, Founding Chair of the National Union of Students of the Philippines Ilocos Sur and Vice President of the Student Council Action Network– Philippines; these organizations were instrumental in the formation of the Save Philippine Education Movement in Ilocos region. He also participated in the Strategic Development Workshop of Vigan City as sectoral representative for the youth under then Mayor Ferdinand Medina.
His undergraduate thesis “Impacts of Mining in the Communities Along the Abra River” became one of the resources in the campaign against mining pollution in the Abra River. He was a recipient of a leadership award from the university when he graduated in 2004.
Human rights defender, peace advocate
After graduation, he took the task of becoming the Spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-Ilocos. He became the voice of Bayan Ilocos during the Oust Gloria Campaign and other pressing regional issues. Appointed as Bayan Muna Regional Coordinator in 2004, he actively campaigned for a clean, peaceful and honest elections; and forwarded legislative briefs to Congress on issues concerning the region.
In September 2004, he was elected Secretary General of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA). As secretary general, he headed the formation of task forces, quick reaction teams and fact-finding missions. This was the height of implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya I in the region and IHRA was at the forefront of defending human rights and exposing military atrocities and impacts of militarization. During this period, IHRA organized the Pilgrims for Peace in Ilocos to campaign for the resumption of peace talks and operationalization of the Joint Monitoring Committee for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights & International Humanitarian Law.
He delivered lectures on peace and human rights during his brief employment at the UNP under the Center for Human Rights, Drug and Peace Education. He assisted in the systematization of the UNP Volunteer Corps and its membership to the United Nations Environment, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Club of the Philippines.
During his stint as spokesperson for Bayan Ilocos and Secretary-General of IHRA, he became the subject of vilification campaign by the 50th IB. While employed at the university, he was put under constant observation by the Director of the Campus Security under the behest of the Director’s contacts in the military.
Makabayan-Ilocos was also able to secure a copy of a memorandum from the PNP Regional Office instructing all PNP offices to monitor his activities during the 2013 elections.
Researcher, educator, orgnanizer
In 2005, STARM called for volunteers to strengthen and broaden the campaign against the expansion of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company and other mining projects that will affect the Abra River system. Seeing the need, he resigned from IHRA and volunteered to take part as a community educator and researcher.
De Vera went to different municipalities and communities traversed by the Abra River to educate residents about the impacts of mining, other extractive industries and the importance of conserving nature. He became part of different groups that organized peoples organizations and alliances to oppose environmentally destructive projects in the area.
During the same period, he was constantly accused by state security forces to have links with the CPP-NPA. His family was forced to leave their province due to frequent threats and harassment which persisted even after they settled in the National Capital Region.
He participated in the formation of Defend Ilocos Against Mining Plunder (Defend Ilocos) in 2011, assisted in the filling of the Writ of Kalikasan against Altamina Mining Corporation and heads its Research and Education Committee.
His paper “Profile and Impacts of Small Scale Mining in the Ilocos Tri-boundary” and MPA Thesis “Mining & Conflicts: Magnetite Mining in Ilocos Sur” provided a substantial proof of illegal and destructive mining operations in the province and exposed the officials and companies behind the massive destruction of its shorelines. He provide his technical knowledge on the issue to different groups, local governments and the church, deliver lectures in forums and other gatherings, entertain media interviews, and actively organize mobilizations to condemn the unabated destruction of nature and to demand accountability.
De Vera’s track record shows his unwavering commitment to impart knowledge, organize communities and be in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized sectors of our society. His engagement with local governments units and agencies affirms his pursuit and adherence to the rule of law and participatory governance. He extends his expertise without expecting any remuneration nor recognition. He remains firm with his convictions and advocacy despite all efforts to intimidate and discredit him.
De Vera started to write the column, Ilocandia Rumblings, for the Northern Dispatch Weekly on April 26, 2015. On his maiden piece, he explained that the column hopes to bring the readership of Northern Dispatch some insights on and analyses of the issues and events in the Ilocos Region – mainly the provinces of La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte.
He added that the column shall “articulate the aspirations of the hardworking people west of the Cordillera from the point of view and standpoint of the oppressed and exploited.”
“It shall dissect Ilocos society and expound on the rumblings in the peasant communities, workplaces, coastal areas and slums. It shall express the ideas and thoughts of the motive forces of change that are stifled or could not get a space in mainstream media,” he said.
In order to get to the bottom of every issue and event that will be written here, this writer will immerse in the communities and the different sectors in the Ilocos region, listen to the rumblings and witness the transformation of society,” he further said.
De Vera has been vilified, threatened, harassed and now slapped with trumped up charges and jailed for choosing to serve the oppressed and exploited.
Is defending human rights, protecting the environment, advocating for peace and fighting for a just society a crime? # nordis.net