For nine months now, Lorena Santos had been searching for her disappeared father, National Democratic Front consultant Leo Velasco who was abducted by suspected military men in Cagayan de Oro City. On Nov. 28, her mother was also abducted in a commercial area in Quezon City. It was a good thing Lorena did not have to look for her for long.
BY DEE AYROSO
Vol. VII, No. 43, December 2-8, 2007
Twenty-five-year-old Lorena Santos, a former radio program coordinator, used to cover press conferences to make news reports. But this Saturday, she went to a joint press conference of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army not to cover, but to look for her mother who was abducted and missing for three days. She was in luck, or sort of.
Her mother, Elizabeth Principe, 56, was presented to the media by Army officials as a high-ranking cadre of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. Army officials said she was captured on November 28 in Cubao, Quezon City by virtue of standing arrest orders for six criminal charges, including kidnapping, arson, murder and frustrated murder in the provinces of Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya.
As soon as Elizabeth was presented at the press conference, Lorena and her brother, lawyer Francis Anthony Principe waved at her. Lorena burst into tears upon seeing her mother alive. Elizabeth kept calm but appeared happy at seeing her children.
“My mother is not a terrorist,” Lorena told reporters in an interview. Elizabeth later told Lorena and her colleagues that she was blindfolded and threatened to be killed right before she was presented to the media.
AFP officials said Elizabeth was in Metro Manila in connection with the Nov. 29 failed ouster moves of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in Makati City.
“She was abducted, not arrested. She just came out of a diagnostic lab where she had her X-ray taken when armed men grabbed her and dragged her into their vehicle. She is sick and they detained her incommunicado, and did not duly inform us, her family,” Lorena said. Lorena added that the military violated their own rules of arrest, and her mother’s basic constitutional right to counsel, and other rights as a detained person.
National Democratic Front (NDF) chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni said Elizabeth is an NDF consultant to the peace talks and is protected by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). Government however said the JASIG protection was suspended with the collapse of the peace talks with the NDF.
Lorena said that she is elated at having found her mother, but she still worries about the fate of her father.
Lorena’s father, Leo Velasco, was among the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) list of 50 individuals charged with rebellion, and was abducted in Cagayan de Oro City on Feb. 19. The rebellion charges were junked by the Supreme Court, but Leo is still missing.
“Mabuhay ang rebolusyon! Mabuhay ang pambansa demokratikong kilusan! Mabuhay ang Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas!” (Long live the revolution! Long live the national democratic movement! Long live the Communist Party of the Philippines!) Elizabeth shouted three times with raised fists during the press conference.
After the press conference Elizabeth was brought to Camp Crame for a medical check-up, which Lorena and her brother demanded for. She will be kept in detention at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Camp Crame while her cases are being heard in court.
Joy of ending a search
The day before, on Nov. 30, Lorena and her search party rushed to the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio upon hearing news on DZMM radio that her mother was being detained and undergoing tactical interrogation at the Intelligence Service Group of the Army. She heaved a sigh of relief when she was told by Army deputy spokesperson Maj. Rolando Dumawa that the Army had indeed arrested Elizabeth. She was however kept in suspense regarding her mother’s location when Dumawa issued a certification saying she was not being held in Fort Bonifacio.
But the information was enough to uplift their spirits. Lorena was hugged by relatives of victims of enforced disappearances who shared her joy at ending her three-day search.
Reunited at the CIDG office inside Camp Crame, Elizabeth and her children embraced and cried tears of joy. The relatives of desaparecidos, or “the disappeared” likewise, did not hold back “happy tears.”
“Masaya kami para sa kanila. Hindi pa man namin nahahanap ang mga kaanak naming nawawala, parang nakita na rin namin dahil sa nangyaring ito” (We are happy for them. Although our loved ones are still missing, we felt that we have found them too because of this moment.), said a mother of a desaparecido.
“Elizabeth’s arbitrary arrest proves that the military is hiding its abduction victims,” said Ghay Portajada, spokesperson of the Families of Desaparecidos for Justice, or Desaparecidos. She added that they refused to present Elizabeth when her daughter went to Fort Bonifacio on Nov. 30, yet the next day, they presented her to the media, still in Fort Bonifacio. “Maj. Dumawa said she was not at the Army camp. Then where could she be prior to her being presented to the media?”
Portajada said that the military’s method of implementation of warrantless arrests and incommunicado confinement brings the victim outside the protection of the law and thus, violates international humanitarian laws.
She added that human rights workers are still confirming the reported abduction of two other victims in Nueva Ecija, also on Nov. 28, by ski-masked armed men believed to be soldiers.
Free Elizabeth, surface Leo
Lorena, who was named after the martyr Red guerilla Lorena Barros, said they may have three different surnames in the family but they are still a family. Being the children of a couple wanted by government forces, they had to change surnames for their personal safety, she said.
She said they will now work for her mother’s release, at the same time, still continuing the search for her missing father. She said these maybe trying times for her family, but they are far from losing hope in the struggle against injustice. Bulatlat