For kin of the disappeared, grief knows no end

With no cemetery or columbarium to visit, the relatives instead laid the photographs of their loved ones on the ground, lighting candles and offering white flowers.


MANILA — On Oct. 27, Ching Torres cooked her husband’s favorite dishes spaghetti and calderata. She and her children also had a cake with the dedication, “Miss na miss ka na namin, Papa. Hihintayin ka namin.” (We miss you, Papa. We will wait for you.)

Instead of laughter, Joey Torres Sr.’s home was filled with tears as his family commemorated his 54th birthday. Unlike before, Joey would give a call if he could not make it home. The family is used to Joey being far away. As regional organizer of Bayan Muna-Central Luzon, he was always busy.

But since the night of Sept. 22, the day he should have gone home, Joey has not been answering Ching’s calls. He sent a message to Ching at around 8 p.m., informing her that he was already at North Edsa. But no Joey came home. Ching called him many times but his phone just kept on ringing. It stopped ringing on Oct. 16, after Ching called on the military to surface her husband.

“Mainit ang mata ng gobyerno, partikular ng militar, sa mga nagsusulong ng karapatan ng mga magsasaka, mangingingisda, katutubo at iba pang maralita,” (The government, especially the military, is closely watching those who promote the rights of farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, and other sectors of the poor.) Ching, also an organizer of Bayan Muna, told Bulatlat in an interview. Ching said they already knew that Joey was under military surveillance.

Ching Torres calls on the military to surface her husband Joey Sr. (Photo by Fred Dabu / Bulatlat)

Ching and a team of human rights workers went from one camp to another searching for Joey. From Oct. 19 to Oct. 25, they went to the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo, Fort Bonifacio then to Camp Tecson in Tarlac, Camp Olivas in Pampanga, Northern Luzon Command headquarters, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Camp Camacho in Bataan, Philippine National Police Region 3 Office in Bataan, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, 91st Infantry Battalion (IB) camp in Aurora, 69th IB in Guimba, Nueva Ecija, 84th IB in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija. All of them denied having custody of Joey.

Knowing fully well what activists are going through in the hands of their captors, Ching could not give up hope, saying, “I hope they would still surface Joey.”

From Cory Aquino to Duterte

On Nov. 2, Ching joined the relatives of other desaparecidos in a gathering at Plaza Miranda.

Joey is one of the six victims of enforced disappearances under the Duterte administration, according to Desaparecidos, an organization of families of the missing.

Every year, relatives of the disappeared hold a reunion of sort. They cry together, exchange hugs and share hope. Most of them have been waiting for their loved ones for decades.

Ligaya Portjada, whose husband Armando Sr. was abducted during the Corazon Aquino administration, said in her speech, “We do not have tombs to light our candles. Our grieving is endless.”

Ligaya’s despair has been going on for the past 31 years since Armando, union president of Coca Cola workers, was forcibly disappeared on July 31, 1987.

READ: Lighting the Way Home for Desaparecidos

With no cemetery or columbarium to visit, the relatives instead laid the photographs of their loved ones on the ground, lighting candles and offering white flowers.

As she looked at the picture of her daughter Sherlyn, Erlinda Cadapan could hardly control her sobs. She wiped her tears with a small white towel while being comforted by Edita Burgos, the mother of missing activist Jonas.

Erlinda Cadapan (left) and Ligaya Portajada (right) mourn the disappearance of their loved ones. (Photo by Fred Dabu / Bulatlat)

“I could not stop thinking that Sherlyn is still being tortured,” Erlinda said. “Justice is not enough. I’m not happy that Palparan will rot in jail until they tell me where my daughter is.”

Retired General Jovito Palparan Jr., the poster boy of Gloria Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, was convicted of kidnapping and serious illegal detention over the enforced disappearance of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. Palparan and his aides Colonel Felipe Anotado and Staff Sgt. Edgar Osorio are serving their sentences at the New Bilibid Prison.

“Just tell me where they buried my daughter and I would be the one to recover her shattered bones,” Erlinda said, referring to Palparan.

Impunity reigns

Desaparecido pointed out that impunity continues.

Former President Gloria Arroyo, whose Oplan Bantay Laya resulted in more than a thousand killings and over 300 enforced disappearances, is now House Speaker.

General Eduardo Año, former Army intelligence chief and believed to be the mastermind behind the abduction of Jonas Burgos, is now secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government.

?”Those who did the abductions, and made our loved ones disappear from the public’s sight still wear their uniforms and are out there terrorizing the people. We expect no justice from this government because Duterte keeps these monsters by his side, giving them more power than ever before,” Cadapan said.

At least 60 other former military officials currently hold ranking positions under Duterte’s administration. (

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