Kim Gargar, a PhD student of Chronobiology from the University of Groningen, was illegally arrested last October 2 by elements of the 67th Infantry Battalion while doing fieldwork for a project in Typhoon Pablo devastated areas. He was caught in a crossfire between government soldiers and the New People’s Army (NPA) and remains in detention at the Mati Provincial Jail.
According to Kim and his lawyer, he was found 1.5 kilometers away from the encounter site injured as he leapt to a gully when he heard shots while he was preparing to observe fireflies in the area. The presence of fireflies are indicators of nearby clean water spots and an unpolluted and healthy environment. Fireflies are highly sensitive to pollutants and chemicals and often inhabit areas such as marshes or wet wooded areas.
Fireflies are also right in Kim’s own interest of chronobiology. It is the study of periodic phenomena in biological systems and their relation to external stimuli such as the sun, the moon or other signals. Fireflies, for example, use their lower abdomen as signals for mates or prey. The phase of their blinking is in turn influenced by the presence of other insects around them. This synchronization of fireflies is not only a good example of hoe physics and biology interact but is also a wonder to behold to see in actual reality.
Kim graduated as magna cum laude with a degree in BS Physics and as Class Valedictorian of the Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology. He became a volunteer physicist of AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People since 2001 when we met him as he started teaching and studying for a Masters degree in UP. Ever since we met him, he remained true to his humble origins from a poor family in Iligan. He often recounts how he struggled to be able to come to the city to study and teach in a premier school.
He continued his passion for teaching aspiring physicists at the Mapua Institute of Technology and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He later continued his studies as a doctorate student. He came back early this year and joined the Center for Environmental Concerns. When he personally witnessed the plight of his fellow Mindanaoenos when he was sent to join a humanitarian and fact finding mission last April 18-20, 2013, he wanted to return to Davao to help those who were affected by Typhoon Pablo.
He lamented the inaction and lack of support for the devastated communities, five months after Typhoon Pablo and talked of the urgent need to rehabilitate the forests and the environment to reduce the risks of disasters and help the people regain their source of water and life. In his return to Manila, Gargar immediately requested to be temporarily seconded to Panalipdan, Southern Mindanao to be allowed to directly contribute to restoration efforts.
The military claims that Kim joined the NPA in 2012. This is not true. While Kim is a very bright physicist, he has not invented teleportation yet as he was still doing his dissertation in Groningen last year and came home only in 2013. Kim is not and has never been a member of the New People’s Army. He planned to work in Davao only for a while and in fact planned to bring his family to his home province in Iligan this Christmas before returning to work in Manila.
Kim’s involvement with AGHAM includes the promotion of the People’s Science School in urban poor communities and the coordination for the Science for the People Colloquium which is a venue for scientists to share their research outputs on appropriate technology. In the universities he worked, he institutionalized research groups inside science organizations with the aim of matching the subject of researches with the needs of marginalized communities.
As an environmental advocate, he was part of environmental investigative missions on various issues such as the impacts of cassava monocrop plantation in Isabela and the flooding study of the Buwaya River in Cordillera. Recently, Kim was an active member of a citizens’ watchdog group that monitored the issue of the huge mine spill caused by the failure of the tailings impoundment of Philex Mines in Benguet.
Kim was helping in the reforestation efforts to bring back the life of the forests of Cateel. Lives and livelihoods of hundreds of families in Cateel are dependent on the healthy functioning of this ecosystem, and Kim’s ongoing research is vital to the realization of the ongoing reforestation and rehabilitation process.
All he wanted was to help the people of Mindanao to rise from the rubbles of environmental catastrophe. The military mindset that everyone they encounter in the mountains and forests are automatically tagged as NPAs is dangerous for scientists who do field research. We are reminded of the military’s callous murder of botanist Leonard Co as he was doing field research in Leyte three years ago.
Kim’s illegal detention is a great offense and a criminal act not only to him but the people whom he is serving. We should all demand for his immediate release and the dismissal of the trumped-up charges filed against him.
Kim Gargar was a frequent contributor in this column (Prometheus Bound) writing about brain drain, Einstein, chronobiology, mathematics, puzzles and society.