By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Families of desaparecidos – the victims of enforced disappearance – gathered at Plaza Miranda outside Quiapo Church here today, Nov. 2, for their traditional commemoration of All Souls’ Day.
Led by the group Families of the Disappeared for Justice or Desaparecidos, they offered flowers and lit candles before the pictures of their loved ones, who have been missing for years and whose most likely deaths remain without justice. Specially not under President Duterte, whose term has so far been marked with extrajudicial killings of thousands of drug suspects under his war on drugs, and enforced disappearances under his martial law in Mindanao.
The call for justice for the disappeared continues amid the worsening human rights situation, as progressives score how Duterte strengthens his alliance with the Marcoses and former President Gloria Arroyo – whose two regimes saw the worst cases of disappearances and killings.
“There is no justice for desaparecidos under the Duterte regime, and will remain so, as long as President Duterte pets and coddles those who abducted our loved ones,” said Connie Empeño, Desaparecidos chairperson.
Under Duterte, human rights group Karapatan counts at least four victims of enforced disappearance, but many missing victims remain undocumented, particularly those who were trapped and are yet to be accounted for after the five-month battle in Marawi City between government troops and the armed extremist Dawlah Islamiya.
The four missing under Duterte are: Manobo farmers Davis Mogul, 24, and Maki Bail, 36; Maranao child Saypudin Rascal, 13; and Salugpungan student Jerwin Tabag.
Peasant youth Jennifer Yuson, who was among the four earlier reported disappeared, was reportedly already located in a military camp in Southern Tagalog.
Missing Salugpungan student
Among the latest documented disappeared is Lumad youth Jerwin Tabag, 18, a Dibabawon and student of the Salugpungan school in Compostela Valley. He was working as a house helper at the time of his disappearance.
At 11 a.m., on May 27, four days after Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao, Tabag was arrested by 10 soldiers of the 67th infantry battalion in Hulid village, Cateel, Davao Oriental, along with miner Jovie Velasquez, 38.
On June 2, Tabag’s mother Aida went to the 67th IB camp in Salincumot village, Baganga town looking for her son. Col. Jacob Thaddeus Obligado of the 67th IB told her that her son had “voluntarily surrendered,” implying he has links to the New People’s Army (NPA), but said that he was not in their custody. Using another soldier’s cellphone, Obligado even allowed Aida to talk to Tabag, who immediately denied Obligado’s claims, and said he was arrested.
On June 23, Aida received a phone call from her son that he has been transferred to Camp Panacan in Davao City. At the same time, human rights workers from Karapatan learned that Velasquez was also in Panacan. But when they went to the camp, the military denied they have the two in custody.
A Karapatan factsheet said Velasquez has been able to return to his family, but Jerwin Tabag remains missing.
Rorelyn Mandacawan, Salugpungan student who spoke in the program at Plaza Miranda, called on the military to surface her school mate, and to stop the attacks on Lumad schools. In September, another school mate and her cousin, Obello Bay-ao was shot dead by paramilitary men.
Meranaws among the many missing
Aside from the child Rascal, several other Meranaws were reported missing amid the fighting in Marawi city.
The national interfaith humanitarian mission in July reported the disappearance of brothers Sakraman Decampong, 18, and his brother Takul, 15, and mechanic Arafat Lala, 38.
On May 26, the brothers Decampong were inside the masjid beside their home in Papandayan Caniogan village when four bombs were consecutively dropped in the vicinity. The two were injured from shrapnels, and other residents tried to transport them to Saguiaran for medical treatment, but were accosted by police at a checkpoint. Police took the brothers and instead brought them to Pantar, Lanao del Norte, where they were turned over to the soldiers, supposedly because they were suspected “ISIS.” The two remain missing.
On July 23, Lala, a leader of evacuees at the Saguiaran Poblacion evacuation center, was arrested and brought to the Crime Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), allegedly because he fixed a motorcycle of an ISIS member. Media reported that the military presented Lala as an ISIS member. His wife Noraida searched for Arafat, but failed to locate where he is being detained.
Speaking before the crowd outside the Quiapo Church, Evan Hernandez of Hustisya said a Meranaw evacuee from Marawi city had approached her and said two of his siblings were among the missing in Marawi city. Many other Marawi residents have failed to locate their relatives, who were believed trapped and could have been killed amid the fighting and government airstrikes.
Coddling the perpetrators of disappearances
Desaparecidos denounced Duterte who, instead of holding accountable the active and retired military officials accused of human rights violations, even gave them top government positions.
Among them is recently retired Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año, who has been accused in the disappearance of peasant activist Jonas Burgos in 2007. In October, a Quezon City court acquitted Army Major Harry Baliaga, formerly of the 56th infantry battalion.
Duterte appointed Año as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff last year. Upon Año’s retirement last week, Duterte announced that he will be the secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
“Duterte is mocking the victims’ cry for justice and accountability that has been denied to them for so long,” said JL Burgos, brother of Jonas. “By coddling the abductors, he is part of the perpetuation of the crime of enforced disappearance,” he added.
The families of the disappeared also expressed solidarity with families of victims of political and drug-related extrajudicial killings.
“We are one in our search for justice. All of victims of rights violations are testament of the regime’s continuing use of repression. We vow to continue as long as the state employs fascist attacks on the people,” said Empeño.