MANILA – Where would you go on All Souls’ or All Saints’ Day if your loved one is “just” missing? For relatives of Filipino victims of enforced disappearance, they really have nowhere to light a candle in memory of their missing loved ones.
“We don’t know if they are alive or not. Where would we light candles and offer flowers for them?” asked Bilet Batralo, younger sister of Cesar Batralo, consultant of National Democratic Front of the Philippines who was abducted nearly five years ago (on Dec. 21, 2006) in San Mateo, Rizal.
While other people go to cemeteries to visit their dead loved ones, relatives of victims of enforced disappearance gathered on the grounds of Redemptorist Church in Baclaran every 2nd of November to light a candle, offer flowers and call for justice. “The first time I went here I did not want to light a candle or offer flowers because my father’s body was not yet found and we don’t know if he’s dead or not,” said Aya Santos, secretary-general of Desaparecidos. Santos is the daughter of the missing NDFP consultant Leo Velasco. Velasco went missing since Feb. 19, 2007 in Cagayan De Oro City.
Like Aya, other relatives of the disappeared nurture hope that their loved ones would eventually come back alive or if not, that bodies would at least be found.
“It is better to find their body than to be clueless if they were still alive or not,” Bilet told Bulatlat.com. She said that deep inside, she still hopes that her brother is alive even if it has been five years since he went missing.
Bilet misses her brother so much, she said. “We love to sing, we had always held videoke singing sessions. He makes sure that he will always be present on my birthday. I’m his spoiled sister.”
Crisensia Dela Cruz, wife of Abner Hizarsa, shed tears as she recalled the abduction of her husband. “He was on his way to our youngest daughter’s school to bring her her lunch when he was abducted. There are witnesses but they were scared to talk,” she said.
Dela Cruz said that life was difficult without Hizarsa. “He takes care of everything when it comes to our household needs. He also takes care of our children’s needs. He was very close to our youngest child. That is why she was very much affected when my husband disappeared.”
Hizarsa was a political prisoner since during Martial Law. He had been detained four times. His latest arrest was in 1992 where he was jailed at the Bulacan Provincial Jail. He was released on bail in 1993. On March 22, 2007 he was abducted by suspected state agents in Zambales.
Lives change when your loved ones disappear. Their family members spend time looking for bodies in military camps, morgues, funeral houses, but to no avail.
Perlita Bucal, daughter of missing Alfredo Bucal, said her mother suffered a mild stroke when his father went missing. Alfredo, 62, was a tricycle driver. He went missing last year, on Nov. 10, 2010, in Nasugbu, Batangas. According to Perlita, her father was plying his route when he passed by the checkpoint area of the Philippine Air Force led by 730th Combat Group Philippine Air Force (CGPFA). Alfredo was accused of having a passenger who was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Perlita said there are witnesses who saw that the military brought her father to a military camp in Palico, Nasugbu.
“We looked for our father in that military camp, but the soldiers there denied that they had had our father. A dead body was found last Aug. 17 in Calayo, Nasugbu, but the police told us to wait for the DNA test results before they release the body,” said Perlita. The description of the dead body and Alfredo showed they have the same height, and the same single tooth. Perlita recalled that the police estimated the body had been eight to nine months dead when found—it was the same time her father had been gone missing. Alfredo’s family also filed a writ of Habeas Corpus against the 730th CGPFA.
Alfredo was the seventh victim of enforced disappearance under President Benigno S. Aquino III, according to the human rights group Karapatan. Perlita, her son and her mother came all the way from Batangas to Baclaran Church and joined other families of Desaparecidos.
According to Karapatan, there are eight victims of enforced disappearance from June 2010 to June 2011. Two hundred and six went missing under former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, 11 of them were consultants of NDFP.
Relatives of the disappeared said that they had lost hope the Aquino administration would heed their call to surface their missing loved ones, let alone help them get justice. “Since the day he became President, we have told him our sentiments and demands. He has only turned a deaf ear to our cries,” Mary Guy Portajada said.
Portajada’s father, Armando Sr. went missing on July 31, 1987. He was a union president of Coca-Cola Company; he was abducted by 15 armed men in broad daylight.
There was also an exhibit held at the Baclaran Church. Pictures of the disappeared were mounted on makeshift walls, the victim’s eyes were replaced by a mirror where viewers find their own instead, replacing that of the victims.
“It is not to scare the viewers, but to make them realize that the victim can be anyone, including themselves, or maybe their own loved ones,” Portajada explained.
Many church goers took time to see the exhibit. Many sympathized with the victims and relatives as they saw the accounts about the victims’ abduction written on the pictures. They also signed the petition for passing the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Bill in Congress.
“We all hoped that one day our loved ones will come home alive. And if they did not, we hope for justice for them. But justice will not just come to us in our doorstep,” said Santos. “Let us all search for that justice for our missing loved ones.”
Photos & Text by: ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL