“Enforced disappearances continue, the government does not own up to its accountability, no perpetrator has been prosecuted or jailed and, human rights violators are being promoted.” – Desaparecidos
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Wearing a faded red shirt, Mrs. Concepcion Empeño tearfully related how the last typhoon destroyed all of her mementos of her dear daughter, Karen.
“I put all of her things inside a drum, thinking they would be safe there. But they were destroyed by the flood,” Mrs. Empeño told the crowd, mostly students, faculty members and employees of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman. “I lost all of them. The only thing left of my memories of Karen is you.”
Karen, along with fellow UP student Sherlyn Cadapan and farmer Manuel Merino, was abducted by suspected state agents on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan. They remain missing to this day.
“Today, I feel angry because cases of enforced disappearances continue,” Mrs. Empeño, chairwoman of Desaparecidos, said in a gathering marking the International Day of the Disappeared, August 30, at the AS lobby, UP Diliman.
According to human rights group Karapatan, there were 17 victims of enforced disappearance under the Aquino administration. This despite the passage of a law criminalizing enforced disappearance. In December 2012, President Benigno Aquino III signed Republic Act No. 10350 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.
The law defines enforced disappearance as the “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such person outside the protection of the law.” The definition is derived from the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Mrs. Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, said the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act and the Anti-Torture Act are only good on paper because the laws are not being implemented.
“Why has Palparan not yet been arrested?” Mrs. Cadapan asked, referring to retired Gen. Jovito Palparan, the main suspect in the case of serious illegal detention and kidnapping. Palparan and a co-accused, Master Sgt. Rizal Hilario, remain at large 20 months after a Bulacan court issued a warrant of arrest against them. Two other suspects surrendered and are detained at Fort Bonifacio.
“There should be no bounty for Palparan,” Mrs. Cadapan said in Filipino. “The order should be ‘Shoot to kill Palparan.'”
The mother continued,” My daughter was tied upside down after soldiers discovered that she tried to leave a letter at her mother-in-law’s house. She was tortured. They [soldiers] are beasts.”
Mrs. Cadapan lamented the long legal battle they are facing. “It’s like we’re looking for a needle in the ocean because the government is not helping us.”
Lorena Santos, secretary general of Desaparecidos said it is the first time that the Philippines is commemorating the International Day of the Disappeared with a law that criminalizes enforced disappearance. “But we, families of desaparecidos, have nothing to celebrate about,” Santos said. “The law alone could not put a stop to enforced disappearances as proven by the recent cases of disappearances; more so to surface the disappeared,” Santos said. “This law has so far served only as a mere token to appease our outrage; but nothing has really changed since its enactment.”
“It is obvious that the elimination of the practice of enforced disappearance will not end under the Noynoy Aquino regime,” Santos added. “All the indicators are here. Enforced disappearances continue, the government does not own up to its accountability, no perpetrator has been prosecuted or jailed and, human rights violators are being promoted. Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan remains free from prosecution and jail,” Santos said.
Under Aquino, military officials linked to cases of human rights violations were promoted. Among them were Brigadier Gen. Aurelio Baladad who is implicated in the arrest, detention and torture of 43 health workers known as Morong 43 and Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año who has been appointed as the new chief of the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp).
Another mother of the disappeared, Mrs. Edita Burgos, lamented the slow grind of justice. Still pending with the Department of Justice is the case of kidnapping and possibly murder against several identified military officers in the abduction of Jonas. The case is still under preliminary investigation. Jonas has been missing for six years, four months and two days, Mrs. Burgos said.
The Supreme Court, Mrs. Burgos said, has also yet to act on the petition the family filed seeking the reopening of the case in light of new pieces of evidence.
“We hope to find the missing alive,” Mrs. Burgos said. “Please help the families of the disappeared.”
“Until when does a person stop searching for a disappeared loved one? The search for the actual missing body may eventually stop after years of not getting any clue. But the fire in the hearts of each yearning mother, daughter or son, wife or husband for justice will never die. The search for justice will not stop, until enforced disappearance is ended,” Santos said.