“We are here today to show that after nine years, the calls of UP students and other sectors to surface Karen, Sherlyn and all the other victims of human rights violations, are not stopping.”
By BETTINA CATLI and LHEALYN VICTORIA
It was exactly nine years ago when their fellow iskolar ng bayan (scholar of the people) or “isko/iska” for short, were abducted and vanished off the face of the earth, and it was a day to remember them: Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan.
It was a small gathering; you can almost call it intimate. Not everyone knew everybody, but they all came to the lobby of Palma Hall in UP, sat on the floor, listened to the sober speeches, and looked back on the lives of two students, whom most of them didn’t even know personally.
“I was a first year college student of UP when Karen and Sherlyn were taken. I didn’t know much about their case, at one point, I thought they were criminals. Then I learned they were victims of human rights violations,” said Nica Baldomero of the human rights group, Victims United for Justice (Hustisya).
“After I graduated, I joined Hustisya to exercise my advocacies for human rights, including for the case of Karen and Sherlyn.”
Many of those present were UP students, many were only in elementary when Karen and Sherlyn were disappeared. Now older, they joined in remembering the activists disappeared during the time of President Gloria Arroyo.
“We are here today to show that after nine years, the calls of UP students and other sectors to surface Karen, Sherlyn and all the other victims of human rights violations, are not stopping,” Menchani Tilendo, of the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) said.
Though they might not have known Karen and Sherlyn, they all share the same thing: they are the Iskolar ng Bayan.
“It has been nine years of no justice for my fellow Iskolar ng Bayan. We are here to show the people and authorities that we still remember, despite nine years, and we will never forget until justice has been reached,” said Mico Pangalangan, also of STAND UP.
As human rights advocates, relatives and friends of Karen and Sherlyn spoke at the gathering, many felt the weight of suffering of the kin of the missing. Many were shocked to know that enforced disappearances continue to happen.
“I read a poem called Pangkaraniwan, about how parents and families of political prisoners or desaparecidos have accepted that their situation has become normal. It’s saddening because we do not want any parent to accept the disappearance of their loved ones as ‘normal’,” said Bryle Leano.
“Being activists who continue to fight and criticize the system, UP students share the risk, because any moment, we could be harassed by the military or made to disappear like Karen and Sherlyn,” said Leano.
“What we share being Iskolar ng Bayan is that we care,” Pangalangan said. “We are leaders and shapers of our own society and we have the capacity to change the reality that we are in today, that is why we should not be afraid to fight, but we should be afraid of doing nothing,” he said.