Fisherfolk Snatched on International Day of the Disappeared

A fisherfolk couple from Hagonoy, Bulacan was abducted on August 30, the same day that cause-oriented groups commemorated the United Nations (UN)-declared International Day of the Disappeared. That the wife was released a day after is not a consolation in any way, as her husband remains missing.


A fisherfolk couple from Hagonoy, Bulacan was abducted on August 30, the same day that cause-oriented groups commemorated the United Nations (UN)-declared International Day of the Disappeared. That the wife was released a day after is not a consolation in any way, as her husband remains missing.

Napoleon Bautista, husband of Ofelia, is the 182nd victim of disappearance since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became President in 2001, according to the human rights alliance Karapatan. Bautista is also the 59th in Central Luzon and the 28th in Bulacan since September 2005.

Perpetrators of involuntary disappearances remain unpunished, and families of victims argue that this is the reason such incidences continue to grow.

Criminalizing involuntary disappearances not a priority

In response to the growing number of desaparecidos (disappeared), Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, a human rights victim during Martial Law, filed House Bill No. 4959 (Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act) which was passed by the House of Representatives last May 29. It is currently pending at the Senate’s justice and human rights committee.

Ocampo challenged Macapagal-Arroyo to prove that she really wants to put a stop to the political killings and enforced disappearances by certifying the bill as urgent.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) formed on May 12 Task Force Usig to investigate the extra-judicial killings of activists and journalists. For her part, Macapagal-Arroyo gave the police last August 1 a 10-week deadline to solve the spate of killings. Finally, officials of the government-led Melo Commission were sworn into office last August 28 to conduct an investigation of the political killings.

The House bill criminalizes involuntary disappearances in the country. Despite being considered a “crime against humanity” by international laws, involuntary disappearances are not covered by the Revised Penal Code, noted Ocampo.

In an interview, he said that such law is much needed to provide a legal framework that would put stiff penalties on those proven guilty as perpetrators, accessories or even witnesses who refuse to inform the victim’s relatives or the authorities.

The bill also seeks compensation to families of victims. Lifetime imprisonment awaits those who will be proven guilty of the crime.

The bill distinguishes the crime as an offense mostly by agents of the government or commissioned private individuals, explaining that in past administrations, enforced disappearance is a part of a state policy mainly against dissenters.

However, despite the growing number of desaparecidos, the bill is not a priority of the Senate, since the latter is preoccupied with the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the Biofuels Bill. At the moment, the upper chamber is also keen on passing the supplementary budget, noted Ocampo.

On the streets

“Where else can the families turn to?” asked Erlinda Cadapan, mother of abducted University of the Philippines (UP) student Sherlyn, during the interfaith rally at Plaza Miranda in Manila to commemorate the UN-declared International Day of the Disappeared.

She voiced out what relatives of the 50 families present at the rally cannot say for fear of the military’s reprisal. The military, after all, are widely believed to have carried out the abductions.

The number of desaparecidos could exceed 2,000 since the abduction of youth movement leader Charlie del Rosario in 1971. Of this number, 759 belonged to Martial Law years; 810 under the Aquino administration; 19 under Ramos; and 38 under Estrada.

Her daughter’s disappearance has now become secondary, said Erlinda, because, “ang nakikita ko ang dapat talaga ay [ipaglaban ang ating] mga karapatan.” (What I see now is the need to fight for our rights.)

Sa galit ko hindi talaga ako dapat umiyak. Ipapakita ko sa kanila ang kanilang kasalanan ay dapat nilang sagutin, hindi ako puwedeng magpatulo ng luha,” she said. (In my anger, I should not cry. I will show them that they should atone for their sins, I cannot shed a tear.)

Addressing about 1,000 people gathered at Plaza Miranda, she said “Ako ay ina ng isang estudyante ng UP [na] nagtungo po sa Hagonoy, Bulacan upang ipatupad ang kanilang misyon and vision sa UP, to serve the people. Ngunit ano ang ginawa ng ating gobyerno? Sila po ay kinwestiyon sa kanilang paraan ng pagtulong sa sambayanang Pilipino.” (I am a mother of a UP student who went to Hagonoy, Bulacan to fulfill the mission of vision of UP, to serve the people. But what did the government do. They were questioned for their way of helping the Filipino people.)

In the lack of government’s protection of people’s right to life, she said “Kung hindi kaya ng Malacañang, tayo mismo ang magbibigay ng proteksyon sa bawat isa,” as she appealed for the victims’ relatives not to lose hope. (If Malacañang cannot, we ourselves will protect each other.)

Waiting in vain

For his part, Romeo Luneta, 64, longs to see that old sewing machine being used again by sister-in-law Nenita.

Abducted 34 years ago together with her daughter from their house in Nueva Ecija, Nenita still left the pins and needles intact on the machine. But this is no indication of their eventual return, said Luneta.

Hindi pa matanggap ng aking kapatid na wala na yung mag-ina niya. Lagi niyang inaasahan na tatakbo pa ulit yung makina,” said Luneta of his brother, who was in fact the one being searched by suspected military years ago. (My brother has not yet accepted the fact that his wife and daughter are gone. He is still expecting that the sewing machine will be operational again.)

He shuddered at the thought they are still being hunted for suspicion of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Ako ay may threat na sa buhay ko, gabi gabi tumatanggap ako ng tawag sa telepono na binabantaan ang aking mga anak kasama ako na mawawala sa mundo tuwing alas-7 hanggang alas-9 ng gabi. Hindi kami makalapit sa pamahalaan dahil alam naming sila ang gumawa,” he said. (I also have threats to my life, every night from 7 to 9 p.m., I get a phone call threatening my children and I that I will be gone from the face of the earth. We cannot approach the government since we know that they are responsible for this.)

Gerry Albert Corpuz, information officer of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), said it is in fact the government policy, under the Oplan Bantay Laya that gives power to the military to carry out the abductions and disappearances of activists.

He said that Task Force Bulacan of the Philippine Army could be involved in Bautista’s disappearance last August 30. (

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