It is appalling, the human rights alliance Karapatan said, that the forced disappearance of political activists and suspected NPA sympathizers – an atrocity that began under Marcos during the 1970s – continues to this day. Under the three years of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, at least 30 incidents of disappearances involving 38 individuals were recorded. Ten of them took place during the election campaign period, from February to May 2004.
By Dabet Castañeda
It was almost midnight and four-year old Reden Lopez waited for his father to come home from work. Tired of waiting, he took his father’s pillow and placed it beside him on the bed. “Pag dating ni Papa, dito s’ya sa tabi ko matutulog” (When Papa arrives, he will sleep here beside me), he told his mother before he finally went to bed. But Reden woke up the next morning without his father beside him. Every night, for several years, Reden would place his father’s pillow beside him, hoping that one day, he would wake up with him lying beside him.
Reden’s father, Jaime Lopez Sr., was abducted by unidentified men on March 27, 1987 in front of a Mercury Drug store branch in Monumento, Caloocan City. The lone witness, a student who refused to be identified, said Lopez was boarding a jeepney when his abductors took him.
State-enforced disappearances were rampant during martial law (1972-1981) but, ironically, the phenomenon intensified during the Aquino presidency (1986-1992) when democracy was supposed to have been reinstalled after Corazon Aquino was catapulted to power through a people’s revolt that overthrew the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The human rights alliance Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) said that while at least 759 people disappeared during martial law the number shot up to 821 under the Aquino government. Most of the abduction cases occurred after the ceasefire between the Aquino government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) ended in 1987 and Aquino herself launched a “total war” policy.
Although the policy was directed against all armed rebels particularly the New People’s Army (NPA), military and police forces also went after unarmed critics, mass leaders and civilians. The war displaced whole communities to a level never seen under Marcos.
The Ramos government, on the other hand, is accountable for 39 disappearances while the Estrada government for 26.
It is appalling, the human rights alliance said, that this violation continues to this day. Under the three years of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Karapatan documented at least 30 incidents of disappearances involving 38 individuals. Ten of them occurred during the election campaign period, from February to May 2004.
As a form of human rights violation, enforced disappearance is described by rights advocates as the worst because it has a relentless effect on the families and loved ones the victims left behind.
Emily Garcia, secretary general of Desaparecidos (the disappeared), a group composed of families of victims of disappearances, says, “When a person is abducted we are left in a state where we are unsure of the future.” Garcia’s own husband, Reynaldo, disappeared in 1988.
Anguish and anxiety
Reden, now 20, told Bulatlat.com last week that his father was a community organizer and a catechist at the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Caloocan at the time he disappeared. Apart from this fact, it is only his father’s pillow that he could remember. “Pati nga yung pakiramdam na mayroong tatay, hindi ko na matandaan” (I couldn’t remember now even how it felt to have a father), he said.
He recalls though how his mother, Lorena, tearfully searched for his father’s whereabouts while he and his younger brother were left in the care of their maternal grandmother.
Nine months pregnant with her third child, Lorena went to every jail and detention center in Metro Manila and various hospitals.
On April 7 that year, Lorena gave birth to another boy whom she named after her husband. Then after a few days, Lorena continued her search for her husband. When she felt everything was hopeless, she looked in morgues and even attended other people’s funerals.
Several months went by and Lorena came home without any news about Reden’s father.
Reden said he always asked for his father. “Pero kung tinatanong ko si Mama, iiyak lang s’ya” (But whenever I asked Mama, she would only cry), Reden said.
Because his questions were never answered, Reden became more and more insecure as he grew up. His playmates would tease him that his father had left with another woman.
It was worse, he said, when he reached his teens. When he would tell his friends of what had happened to his father, they would say he was just making stories. “Kwentong kutsero lang ‘yan,” (Those are just invented stories), they would tell him.
Reden overcame his insecurity when he met with other children of the desaparecidos. In 2001, he joined the Sons and Daughters of the Disappeared (SAD), the group of children of the disappeared. They would hold special trainings on culture and the arts. A particularly relevant program for them is the staging of plays dedicated to the disappeared.
“Sa pagsasadula ng aming buhay at kalagayan, nailalabas namin ang aming mga saloobiin” (In acting out our lives, we are able to express how we feel), he said after a performance during the commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared on June 2 at the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran, Metro Manila.
He says he likes being with SAD because unlike his other teenage friends, the other children of the desaparecidos would always listen and give advice.
In this group, he said, they are also given studies on the current economic and political situation and the history of the struggle of the Filipino people. This way, they are made to understand the circumstances of their loved ones’ disappearance.