Desaparecidos’ Exhibit: A Day of Remembering and Protest

Their loved ones may be missing, but the families of the disappeared have come forward to stand together and protest the continued enforced disappearances under the Arroyo administration.

Vol. VII, No. 15 May 20-26, 2007

It was an exhibit of personal items owned by people of varied personalities. There was an LP record of the Rolling Stones, owned by Jonas Burgos. There was Gloria Soco’s mug, a Christmas gift from her son, unused and still wrapped in a box. A small blue pillow owned by UP student Karen Empeño. An old, faded night shirt of Leopoldo Ancheta. There was Romulos Robiños’s black cap, Gabriel Calubad’s keys, Rogelio Calubad’s shaving kit, Honor Ayroso’s pale red cotton shirt, Cesar Batralo’s cap and corduroy jacket, and a black bag full of clothes owned by Abner Hizarsa.

The objects on exhibit were ordinary, but those who looked around became teary-eyed, for they were looking at objects left behind by their owners, who had become desaparecidos – abducted and still missing under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. These were shown at the monthly gathering of Hustisya! (Arroyo Regime Victims United for Justice), held at the Quezon City Memorial Circle. The gathering highlighted victims of enforced disappearances under Arroyo, now numbering 199.

Desaparecidos is the Spanish word meaning “the disappeared.” It was coined in Latin America where thousands became victims of enforced disappearance implemented by tyrannical regimes to suppress public outcry for social change.

The gathering was held inside a small hall, where three hand-painted pictures of the latest desaparecidos served as a backdrop: Jonas Burgos, 37 who was abducted in Quezon City April 28, Abner Hizarsa, 55 who was abducted March 22 in Subic, Zambales, and Luisa Posa-Dominado, who was abducted April 12 with Leonilo Arado in Iloilo.

“Bakit sila? Dahil sila’y aktibista (Why them? Because they are activists)” Ghay Portajada, spokesperson of the Families of Desaparecidos for Justice or Desaparecidos, said, referring to all the other victims of disappearance. “Dahil pinili nilang maglingkod sa bayan, magtanggol ng ating karapatan (Because they chose to serve the people, to protect our rights),” she added.

University of the Philippines professor Judy Taguiwalo spoke about Luisa Dominado, or Luing, whom she knew as an 18-year-old activist who became a fellow political detainee in Panay island during the Martial law. Luing is the spokesperson of SELDA, an organization of former political detainees when she was abducted. Taguiwalo said Luing spearheaded the setting up of a memorial in Iloilo city as a tribute to all victims of Martial Law in Panay. “Napaka-ironic na kasama na siya sa hinahanap natin (It’s ironic that she’s among those who are missing now),” she said.

Cris Hizarsa, wife of Abner, said she brought a bag full of Abner’s clothes and other personal items, the same pack she lugged around in her search at military and police camps. “Ilang beses na siyang nadukot, pero natatagpuan din naming sa kulungan (He had been abducted in the past, but he was always surfaced at a certain jail),”she said. Abner had been a peasant organizer in Central Luzon and had been arrested, detained and released for four times. He had retired from organizing in 2000 to manage a small family store but remains a SELDA member when he was abducted.

JL Burgos, younger brother of Jonas, called on other families to participate in a synchronized sending of text messages and email letters at 1:20 pm, on May 28, a month after Jonas’s abduction. “Itext natin: Ilitaw ang mga nawawala! (Let us send text messages, saying: Surface all the disappeared!”


Evan Hernandez, Hustisya! convener said that the monthly Hustisya gathering are being held as a form of protest and strengthening of the families’ resolve to attain justice. “Nagpupugay tayo sa mga biktima, at nagpoprotesta tayo at naniningil sa gobyernong Arroyo na siyang maysala sa mga paghihirap ng sambayanan (We pay tribute to the victims, and we are protesting against the Arroyo government which is responsible for all the people’s sufferings),” she said.

Abner’s wife Cris urged other families of desaparecidos to continue with their resolve to seek justice.

“Mahirap nang gawin pang miserable ang buhay natin sa nangyari sa kanila. Kaya dapat manindigan pa rin tayo at balang araw, makakasama rin natin sila (Let us not make our lives even more miserable, given what was done to them. Let us remain firm, and one day, we will have them back with us),” said Cris.

A Desaparecidos statement said that Arroyo should sign the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance to curb the cases of disappearance. Desaparecidos said that under the Convention’s definition, enforced disappearance is committed by government officials or by organized groups acting in behalf, or with the support, consent or acquiescence of the government. Under the Convention, signatory states are required to investigate disappearances and punish those who are found guilty.

The Desaparecidos’ statement also noted that the Philippines’ reelection to the United Nations Human Rights Council was “ironic.” “The country’s membership to the recently-created UNHRC has not reflected in any show of respect, much less protection of human rights of Filipinos, as shown by the rising cases of disappearances and extrajudicial killings,” the statement.(

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