For every victim of injustice, a rights defender rises.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Perlie Bucal, a resident of Nasugbu, Batangas, was among the dozens of peasants and fisherfolk who journeyed to Quezon City on March 17 to call for the closure of coal plants in their province.
Bucal, like the other protesters from Batangas and Cavite are beset by coal pollution, loss of livelihood, and continuous threats of demolition and militarization in their communities.
But what sets her apart is the pain she and her family had carried in the past five years. Her father 62-year-old Alfredo was abducted by suspected Philippine Air Force men in 2010, and is one of the first victims of enforced disappearance under the Aquino administration. He remains missing to this day.
Bucal was president of the Nasugbu Tricycle Operators and Drivers Association, and had been involved in struggles to defend their housing and land. His passenger, Tomas Sayto, was a peasant organizer.
Having overcome her grief, Bucal remains optimistic, not just in finding justice for her father, but in facing the struggles being waged by impoverished Batangueños.
“I have not lost hope, amid the many issues confronting our compatriots,” she told Bulatlat.
It was noon of Nov. 10, 2010, Alfredo was ferrying his passenger Tomas Sayto in his tricycle when they were intercepted by a military truck and owner-type jeep along a busy road in Luntal village in Tuy town.
“Dapa! Dapa!” (Get down! Get down!) the suspected PAF men called out, as they shot Sayto inside the tricycle.
A witness who was on board a nearby passenger jeepney said she saw how the suspects pushed Alfredo to the pavement and stepped on his back, as he pleaded for mercy. Two men then grabbed him on each arm, pulled him up and threw him onto the six-wheeler truck.
“The witness clearly recalled seeing the shoe print on his back, as he was thrown onto the truck. His two thighs slammed on the truck bed, and his urine burst out,” Bucal said. There were many witnesses, as the commotion had caused a traffic slowdown, she added.
Bucal and peasant leader Isabelo Alicayo were at the Tuy municipal hall when they chanced upon the said witness, who saw her carrying a picture of her father. “I’ve seen this man,” the woman witness said, then gave her account of what happened.
“That was when my tears fell,” Bucal said.
The said woman was the fifth witness and last chance they had for the habeas corpus petition filed at the Nasugbu court. All other witnesses had given sworn statements, but retreated after they were reportedly threatened or paid by armed men suspected to be state forces.
The woman witness positively identified the abductors as PAF men and Tuy police men during several interviews with lawyers. But as soon as she was taken into witness protection, her husband called up and asked her to come home. Bucal said the woman later pleaded with her and said she could no longer testify.
“She was hysterical. Armed men held her husband and children at gunpoint,” Bucal said.
In February 2011, the Nasugbu court held its last hearing on the habeas corpus petition, and no witness showed up.
In June 2011, the skeletal remains of a man was found in a canal near a PAF camp in Nasugbu. Bucal said she gave her DNA sample for testing, to confirm if it was her father’s remains. But sadly, she said, they did not have the money to have the test done.
Bucal said she now also faces a threat of demolition, as their community in sitio Basa, Wawa village in Nasugbu is reportedly set for expansion of the waterways.
As she joins progressive groups in Southern Tagalog, Bucal said, she is filled with conviction to help address social injustices. Although she, and her family, wants to have Alfredo surfaced alive, the possibilities are getting less by the day.
“But even if there is no more hope of ever seeing him alive, I am here. With the myriad problems confronting the people – the demolition, the harassment on women, I am one of those who would fight for and defend the people’s rights,” Bucal said. Her despair in losing her father now gives her the drive to join many other people whose rights are under attack.