Thursday, January 20

The activist firefighter who feels silenced | Spain

Ina Robles, firefighter of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia, in Getxo on October 4.
Ina Robles, firefighter of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia, in Getxo on October 4.Fernando Domingo-Aldama

Ina Robles is a firefighter. Since he was 25 years old, he is 46, he works in something that he is passionate about. “Being a firefighter is my life,” he says. Ina Robles is an activist. Also for two decades he has collaborated with various organizations against war, climate change or inequality. “He is one of those people who stands up anchored to his values”, says Eva Saldaña, director of Greenpeace, with whom he has carried out “infinite actions”.

In addition to demonstrating, hanging banners, driving boats and trucks for organizations such as Greenpeace, Ongi Etorri Errefuxiatuak or Amnesty International, Robles participates in the media to serve as a speaker for the causes he defends (for example, in the program En Jake, by EiTB). He always has, he explains over the phone, in his spare time, usually for free. “In the cases in which I am offered a remuneration, I ask that it be donated to an NGO,” says this firefighter from the Artaza park (Leioa, Bizkaia) who was a councilor for Elkarrekin Podemos in the Biscayan town of Getxo between 2019 and 2020 “Activism is part of my private life, like riding a bike, how others coach a soccer team or collaborate in a soup kitchen,” he says. That is why he never asked permission to go on TV.

When Radio Euskadi offered him 60 euros for a monthly collaboration in the program Attic, of an hour, but for administrative reasons he asked him to charge them and then donate them himself, Robles hesitated. “I wanted to heal myself in health, to make sure that I did not incur some kind of incompatibility; What I couldn’t imagine is that they were going to answer me something that I didn’t even ask ”. The response of the Administration was that “there is no importance or not the collection of the collaboration” for it to be incompatible with his work as a firefighter. The problem is that the collaboration was not “occasional”.

According to Law 53/1984 on Incompatibilities, officials cannot carry out private activities that undermine the fulfillment of their duties or compromise their impartiality or independence (for example, a planning technician should not advise a construction company). Article 19 of the law cites some activities that are exempt: an official can teach courses “when they are not permanent or habitual or involve more than 75 hours a year”, produce literary or artistic works, manage their assets or participate in seminars. Among these activities compatible with public work is “occasional participation in symposia and programs.” In its refusal, the Provincial Council of Bizkaia (DFB) uses the dictionary: according to the RAE, occasional “is what happens or is done by chance or accident” and what “is, happens or is done on occasion, but not regularly or out of habit ”. Therefore, they dictate, once a month is “usual”: “which derives from attitude Latin term ”.

Robles called the DFB after the denial. “I asked, what would then be occasional? They answered me that a couple of times a year “, explains the firefighter, who then (November 9, 2020) left all his participation in the media:” If I disobey I play a fat file, “he says. “In practice, the DFB has prohibited him from giving opinions in the media, in his free time, about things that have nothing to do with his work, even without charge, unless it is something totally exceptional,” says Robles’ lawyer. , Emilio Aparicio. Firefighter and lawyer appealed, unsuccessfully, and then took the case to court. The trial was on September 20 and is pending sentence.

Although in their arguments both parties are embroiled in details of the law and in its collision with freedom of expression, experts agree that the core is in the word occasional. To strengthen its position, the DFB quotes an article from the UNED Law Review in which it is explained that “the legislator demands the occasional, since the habitual, constant and repeated exercise could collide with the indicated principles of efficiency and dedication of the public employee to the job”. However, the author, Carmen Seoane Bouzas, does not believe that her text justifies this case. “It is not enough to go to the RAE”, he explains by phone, “it would be more logical to make an analog interpretation with what the law says about the courses: they must be less than 75 hours a year, far from the 12 in this case” .

For Jesús Cruz, professor of Labor Law at the University of Seville, “this denial is not understandable”: “The Provincial Council makes an interpretation that is too restrictive; something can be periodic, but also occasional, the 60 euros is such a ridiculous amount that it demonstrates that there is no relationship that could undermine the exercise of their work ”. The professor explains that here “occasional” is an “indeterminate legal concept”: “It is not precise, you cannot transfer it to an exact figure, but once a month, for that amount, it does not seem to respond to the spirit of the law”. The professor of Administration at the University of Alicante, Santiago González-Varas, agrees: “It would be necessary to study jurisprudence in detail, but intuitively 12 hours a year would not harm his performance as a civil servant.” Robles’ lawyer explains it with the sorites paradox: “For us 12 times a year it is grain, for the County Council it is a lot”.

In CC OO Euskadi the matter sounds “strange”: “It is the first incompatibility of this type that I am aware of”, says Cesar Merino. “Normally the Administration does not pose problems when it is something so sporadic and if it has nothing to do with its functions.” At Greenpeace, its director is also surprised: “It had never happened to us, but it doesn’t surprise me either; activists are silenced in many ways ”. In the Diputación this is “a matter of legal regime and there is no possible assessment beyond that made by the technician who studied the case: being periodic, collaboration is not occasional; we will have to wait for the judge to decide ”, explain sources from the province.

Meanwhile, Ina Robles no longer speaks in the media. Except on Twitter, where he has 16,363 followers and on the day of the trial he published: “The Administration I work for tries to silence me. (…) If you are someone annoying to the system, the precedent could be used to silence you as well ”. “Above all I feel anger,” he says. “I had achieved a certain presence, for activism it is essential to have speakers, and although the judge agrees with me, I have already lost my inertia. When this is over, no one will remember me. “

“Both my work and my activism consist of saving lives”

In 2007 Ina Robles climbed the Pilar basilica in Zaragoza with other Greenpeace members to hang a banner against the cluster bombs manufactured by a local company. In 2013 he was one of the NGO detainees for climbing on the roof of Congress to protest the “speculative” Coastal Law. For years he has combined his work as a firefighter with his activism in his spare time. It is no exception: “We have many volunteers who are civil servants, especially firefighters, but also some municipal police,” says Eva Saldaña, director of Greenpeace, who explains that the organization has a “care policy” for when its members, civil servants or not, they suffer some consequence for their actions (hiring them if they are disqualified, paying lawyers or fines).

In 2017, Robles’ name leapt into the media, along with the nickname “the objector firefighter.” While on duty, he refused to participate in an arms cargo checkpoint in the port of Bilbao bound for Saudi Arabia. He alleged conscientious objection: “Those weapons massacre children in Yemen, I would do it again,” he says despite defining the following months as “hell.” The Provincial Council of Bizkaia threatened him with a very serious offense (which could have meant up to six years without a job and salary). Finally, everything was left in a slight: a temporary stain on his file, without a fine. “The judge was very rigorous, he verified, because it was recorded on the station, that in 14 minutes my absence was replaced and no one was put in danger by my refusal to participate,” says the firefighter. “My work is something sacred, I had never conflicted with my activism until that day in the port, in fact, both are about saving lives.”

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