Pain that neither recognizes nor respects time


Parenthood changes you in so many good and happy ways; but there are also changes that you wish never happened.

Parenthood makes you afraid. If you were fearless before and you scoffed at danger; if you were daring before and you thumbed your nose at warnings; if before you had the courage to present yourself to the world and tell it to prepare itself for your coming and devil take those who ignored you and your fierceness: if you were all that before, then all the more will you feel how vulnerable you are once you become a parent.

You fear, but it’s not for yourself but for your child. Your courage always stands to be tested, and you struggle to maintain reserves of strength should you be called upon to provide it.

In the meantime, worries are endless like water flowing from rivers inevitably into seas. You learn to look not only to the left or right, but up and down and diagonally, trying to see into the future so you can protect your child in the present. The smallest cut on the little one’s leg, arm or – heaven forbid- face- causes hours of self-loathing; his or her poor appetite makes you despair.

You pray when you seldom if ever prayed before for her or his safety, and the prayers are repetitive, pleading, consistent.

You always pray for good weather, for clear roads, for sane drivers, for telecom firms to never lose their signals, for an intelligent and accessible pediatrician, for drugstores that never close just in case, for hospitals that have compassionate, efficient and professional staff and doctors just in case, for rains that never cause floods, for sunlight that won’t cause sunburn, for food that won’t cause botulism, diarrhea, stomachaches. You check products at least five times before buying them. You worry about kidnappers, pedophiles, child molesters, drunk drivers, drug addicts, an older child who’s mean or rude or violent.

You worry and even during moments when there is laughter and you can freely breathe as you watch him or her slowly but surely growing in strength and grace, you look over your shoulder and double check so that the next moment will not bring pain, sadness or harm to your child.

This is how I am with my own daughter. Of course she doesn’t really see me worrying or being paralyzed by fear — I try hard to never show her and instead what she sees is her mother, confident and firm. But I know the true score, and I am resigned to it: she is my child, I carried her inside me for nine months, she means more to me than my own life.

But this isn’t the only relationship I cherish, and inevitably, worry about endlessly (yes, it is my nature to worry — I tend to over-analyze, to magnify tiny problematic points until they’re veritable dinosaurs).

I am myself a daughter, and I love my mother deeply the same way I loved my father when he was still alive. I worry if she’s taken her meds; if she’s tired; if any of her plants have died and made her sad; if the dogs are too noisy and cause her to lose sleep at night.

I am a sibling, and my sister — two years older than I am and at least 10 IQ points more intelligent — at least 15 EQ points less mature than I am so I worry about her as well.

I am a friend to a number of remarkable and kind people, and though I seldom see them, they are necessary to my happy existence.

My relationships to these people, and to others who have touched my life, make me very grateful, despite the worry they sometimes bring me. They keep me human, and they give my life meaning. I cannot imagine my life without them, and the very idea is painful.

So on this cold night I imagine and am saddened by my imaginings, how it is for those whose loved ones— their children, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, friends, comrades — have been taken away from them by force and then made to vanish into the limbo of the uncertain, the unknown?

They themselves were suddenly and viciously forced to continue their lives bearing the burden of memory of unfinished conversations, unexpressed affection and the awareness of loss that may or may never be recovered. The slightest hope of finding those who have been taken both revives and causes despair. Despair because the waiting is endless, and the pain doesn’t recognize the passing of seconds, minutes or hours, not even if they turn to days, months and years.

The anguish of losing someone to death especially by way of injustice and cruelty is considerable; but the pain of losing someone to injustice and cruelty — and to have the loved one’s physical self removed from reach save for the gift of memory and the imagination –is greater.

Those whose loved ones were martyred by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the inhumane and brutal system they defend will carry their pain their whole lives; but they have at least the relief that comes from knowing that the suffering has ended for the dead even if it doesn’t for the living. The living have ceremonies where they can pay tribute to their martyred dead, and continue to give them honor. They can find for themselves a sort of closure (never complete because justice has not been attained) and move forward.

But those whose loved have disappeared — made to disappear, hidden from the sight and warmth of those they left behind, vanished as if they never existed –for them there is no comfort. The horror of uncertainty denies peace, and even if one succeeds in accepting the probability that the disappeared loved one will never be found and an exchange of final goodbyes will never happen, there will always be the unrelenting anguish at the unknown: how did she die? Where did he die? Was he in pain the entire time? Before she closed her eyes for the last time, was the last thing she saw were the faces of human monsters?

The families of the disappeared also move on with their lives, but the empty spaces are not filled and so they search on for what will fill it: a sign, some proof, a grave even unmarked.

The families of the disappeared can only affirm in their hearts and to the rest of the world that the missing are always loved, and the search for them — even if only for the dust that made them what they were before — is unrelenting.

I have been thinking about all this as I read about the lives of the disappeared, among them Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, two daughters of two mothers; and Jonas Burgos, another mother’s son.

On June 26, 2006, University of the Philippines students and activists Sherlyn, then 29, and Karen, then 23, were taken by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Hagonoy, Bulacan, north of Manila. Witnesses have testified that it was Macapagal-Arroyo’s favorite henchman and main implementer Oplan Bantay Laya Gen. Jovito Palparan who directly ordered the abduction, torture and rape of the two women. Karen and Sherlyn remain missing.

On April 28, 2007, in San Miguel, Bulacan, peasant advocate Jonas Burgos conducted a organic farming training for members of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan, a chapter of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. He was last seen that same afternoon in a restaurant at the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City. Witnesses said that Jonas was dragged away by a group of men and thrown inside a van.

Sherly, Karen and Jonas all have mothers, and fathers, and families and friends who hold them dear. The anguish unleashed by their sudden disappearance and the circumstances surrounding their loss, the enormity of the challenge to find them is the stuff that breaks hearts even as it inspires great outrage.

Before I became a mother, I related more to Karen, Sherlyn and Jonas because I, too, am someone who dreams of a country where justice and true democracy live and breathe. While I cannot declare myself to be on equal footing with them and the without doubt larger sacrifices they have made in pursuing the collective ideals, however, I am keenly aware of the brutality of those who seek to crush dreamers and what they struggle to bring to realization. My fears and greatest worries for other comrades and close friends in the Movement are the same fears I have for myself and my own loved ones.

Fast-forward to the present: Jonas, Sherlyn and Karen remain missing and I am now a mother. The sympathy I have always felt for their mothers has now sharpened to the point of pain: I look at my own child, think of my own hopes for her, and I remember what kind of society she will be growing up in, and my fears intensify. I am a mother, and I can understand, even feel what other mothers feel. But to imagine how it is to lose a child and to know that they suffered…

The Philippines remains a country where the likes of Sherlyn, Jonas and Karen are abducted and tortured and even killed. These three young Filipinos who let go of their own ambitions and instead caught firm hold of something greater than themselves, embracing the welfare of so many oppressed others – they were snatched away and subjected to unknown nightmares made real. So many others like Sherlyn, Karen and Jonas — activists, dreamers all — were made to disappear by human monsters and the state they defend.

If you love, you must fight injustice. If you love, you must work to help bring justice to the Disappeared and struggle for a society where no dreamers will ever be lost.

I salute the courage of the families of the Disappeared: as they search for their lost loved ones, they also struggle to clear the path for those who continue what their sons, daughters, wives, husbands begun and they themselves, too are dreamers. They bear their grief the best way they can, and transform it into something more pure: determination to not allow the darkness stay, the disappeared unfound, and this nation and its people in shackles. Daily, in their campaign for justice and in their unrelenting search, they give tribute to the Disappeared and what they fought for. # (

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