In this video, Lorena “Aya” Santos shares with Bulatlat.com her continuing search for her father, National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant Leo Velasco, who has been missing for four years now. As secretary-general of Desaparecidos, Santos is in the frontline in the search for other victims of enforced disappearances and justice for other victims of human-rights violations. (Interview by Ronalyn V. Olea, edited by Ayi S. Muallam)
Below is Aya’s letter to her missing father.
A few days ago I had a dream about you. I knew you were here because I can almost smell you. We were talking casually when, out of nowhere, I asked, “Are you still alive?”
“No,” you said.
My heart was suddenly stabbed. You said something else that I couldn’t comprehend because I was stuck at the word “No.” Then you hugged me like I had never been hugged my whole life. I hugged you back and I cried. Hard.
Then I was awaken by my own sobs.
Were you telling me that I should start accepting that you are gone? Was that a goodbye hug? It pains me to think so. But four years of searching for you is quite an obvious sign that you will never come home. Today is the fourth year of your disappearance, Tatay. There was never a day that I didn’t miss you nor thought of you.
‘Tay, in those four years, you taught me so much. You taught me to continue this struggle even with the heavy heart of missing you. You taught me to use this anguish and turn it into a fuel in seeking for justice. And even without you, you taught me that your principles are worth fighting and even dying for. You brought me out of my comfort zone and into the frontlines to confront the perpetrators of injustice and repression in our country. You may not be here but my search had brought me closer to you and the cause that you carried.
The author’s parents, Beth Principe, who was released from prison in 2009, and Leo Velasco, who remains missing after he was abducted four years ago.
Isn’t it ironic that the fourth year of your disappearance is also the time for the renewal of formal peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, which you had also worked for? If only the peace talks could surface you and all other missing victims.
Forgive me for not being able to find you yet. Even with the change of administration, disappearances still continue, desaparecidos like you are still missing, and perpetrators are still walking free. You are right when you said that it is not the change of administration that will bring significant change in the society but the other way around.
Today, in your fourth year of disappearance, as much as I wanted so bad to forget that you’ve been missing this long, I stand with your photo in front of the institution that abducted you, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to call for your surfacing and for other victims of enforced disappearances. Together with other families of desaparecidos we will continue to fight against this heinous crime and against a repressive state.
Your disappearance has led me to find more of myself.
Aya Santos, secretary-general of Desaparecidos, in a protest rally demanding the surfacing of her father, Leo Velasco. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)
It has also led me to continue what you strived for. Nanay and Kuya are still here, of course, but also, I stand along many others like me, whose loved ones were disappeared by state security forces. I stand with the Filipino masses who continue to seek justice and genuine social changes, to which you and the other desaparecidos had committed your lives.
Thank you for teaching me to find courage in all this; if you did not, I would have driven myself crazy not knowing what to do. Thank you for bringing me closer to the people whom you served for they give me comfort and strength to continue the struggle.
Tay, my heart still hopes that you are still alive and will be able to read this. I am still waiting for your return.
I miss you so much!
Your loving daughter,