They are victims of the same abhorrent acts, although three decades apart. One has searched for a sister, the other is still looking for his parents. One shared the same belief as his sister, the other could not fully understand his parents’ work. But whether it happened during Martial Law or now that we are supposedly under a democracy, whether the relative is a sister, a brother, or a parent, or whether one is an activist or not, the pain one feels in having his or her relative forcibly disappeared by state security agents is still the same; it does not diminish the cruel effects of the crime.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Sometime in July 1977, Rizalina Ilagan rendezvoused with nine companions Gerardo Faustino, Jessica Sales, Modesto Sison, Cristina Catalla, Ramon Jasul, Emmanuel Salvacruz, Salvador Panganiban, Virgilio Silva and Erwin de la Torre at the Makati Medical Center. That fateful day, they were abducted by state security agents and were never seen alive again.
Bonifacio Ilagan, Rizalina’s brother, believes that his sister’s abduction was the handiwork of a composite team of state security forces called the Ground Team 205. The team, he said, was comprised by agents from the 2nd Military Intelligence Group, 2nd Constabulary Security Unit and 231st Company of the Philippine Constabulary headed by a certain Col. Gallido.
An informant told Ilagan that there were 24 agents, including civilians, in the team. The team was operating in Southern Tagalog but could also strike anywhere. Rizalina et.al, later called as the Southern Tagalog 10, were forcibly abducted at the Makati Medical Center.
It was the single-biggest case of abduction during martial law.
Ilagan related that before the incident, Rizalina got in touch with him and insisted on meeting him. Ilagan said he knew it would be dangerous. He knew he was placed under surveillance by the military to trace other activists. Rizalina then was in the underground movement.
A leader of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), Ilagan was arrested in 1974 and released two years after. In 1977, he was still reporting to Camp Crame on a weekly basis and had re-enrolled at the University of the Philippines (UP).
It was early July of the same year when she met Rizalina. He felt she had something very important to say. Rizalina told him that some of their colleagues have been missing. They needed a halfway house. Ilagan agreed to look for a house and had set a date for their next meeting. Rizalina never came.
Not expecting the worst
Ilagan said an emissary later told him that Rizalina and nine others have been missing.
He said, “All the while, I thought my sister was just arrested… I didn’t expect the worst.”Ilagan said he thought then that Rizalina would be surfaced later, as what happened to him and to other political detainees during that period.
When they received no news about Rizalina, the family went to military camps and to the Ministry of National Defense to look for her. Ilagan said they even tried to look for contacts within the military but to no avail.
A month after the abduction, the family got in touch with someone who had contacts within the intelligence community, said Ilagan. The source promised he would try to help. When the man came back to them, the family was told, “It’s too late.” Ilagan said the man confirmed that Rizalina was in the hands of the military. The custody of Rizalina, they were told, was no longer within the regular procedure. The informant did not say if Rizalina was still alive.
Later, Modesto Sison’s body was found in Lucena City, Quezon province. Two others Virgilio Silva and Salvador Panganiban were found in a ravine in Tagaytay City, Cavite. The rest, including Rizalina, have not been found to this day.