Pope Francis concludes Asia trip
Lay missionary and scientist held for attempted murder
Two accused of aiding Philippine rebels
Kim Gargar, who is accused of abetting the New People's Army (Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines)
- Joe Torres, Manila
- October 7, 2013
Church leaders and civil society groups on Monday called on the Philippines military to immediately release a lay missionary and a scientist being held on charges of illegal possession of firearms and attempted murder.
Restita Miles, of the Catholic Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, and physicist Kim Gargar, were conducting a study in the forested areas in Davao Oriental province, Mindanao, on Oct 2, when they were caught in the crossfire between the army and rebels.
Gargar, who was later found with a head and foot injury, was charged with illegal possession of explosives, firearms and ammunition, attempted murder, and violation of a gun ban. Gargar works with the Center for Environmental Concerns and is a candidate for a doctoral degree in chronobiology from the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands.
The whereabouts of Miles is unknown. A group of missionaries in Rome, who penned a letter of protest to President Benigno Aquino, suspect that she is in the hands of the military.
"It is unacceptable that religious missionaries who advocate for the rights of the poor and oppressed, and the environment, should be hindered from their work," the letter said.
The letter was signed by the Comunita Filippina di Napoli, Camillian Task Force, Brothers of Charity, Migrante, Gran Madre di Dio Filipino Community, the International Task Force OFW, and the Filipino Women's Council.
The military, however, says that Miles and Gargar are communist rebels who were involved in the ambush of a government patrol on Oct 1.
Captain Alberto Caber, spokesman of the Army's Eastern Mindanao Command, claims Gargar admitted to being a member of the communist New People's Army (NPA) and to helping the rebel group produce books aimed at "exploiting the countryside."
Gargar denied the allegations in an interview with local media in Davao City.
Despite dwindling numbers, the NPA still holds considerable sway in poor, rural areas across the Philippines where they receive material and moral support from a population which has endured the brunt of the country’s poverty gap.
The military has estimated that the rebels only have about 4,000 armed men under their command, compared to more than 26,000 at their peak 30 years ago.