By KENT GALIDO
MANILA — “Surface the disappeared, hold their captors accountable.”
This was the call of families of victims of enforced disappearances as they continue to search for their loved ones who have fallen victims to what local and international human rights groups, including the United Nations, consider as the most cruel form of human rights violation.
“We hope that once and for all, enforced disappearances will be put to end,” said Edith Burgos, mother of disappeared farmer activist Jonas Burgos, said during an online forum organized by Karapatan yesterday, International Day of the Disappeared.
Jonas was abducted in 2007 by suspected state forces. Mrs. Burgos, 14 years later, remains steadfast that Jonas will be returned to their family.
Human rights group Karapatan documented 19 victims of enforced disappearances under the Duterte administration. This despite the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 supposedly in force.
“No number is too many with regards to enforced disappearances. Worse, the existing culture of impunity has been reinforced by Duterte and his minions show of addiction to power and bloodshed,” said Erlinda Cadapan, mother of disappeared University of the Philippines student Sherlyn Cadapan.
Activists, not terrorists
Concepcion Empeño, mother of disappeared UP student Karen Empeño, also raised alarm over how victims of human rights violations are being portrayed as terrorists.
“Since Karen came from a poor family, she experienced and witnessed the poverty of life, this became her inspiration to become an activist and fight for the welfare of all,” Empeño said during the online program.
Under the Duterte administration, the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 was passed, allowing the government to tag critics and activists as terrorists, which may consequently lead to freezing of their assets or being detained up to 24 days without charges.
This, said Cadapan, who is also the chairperson of Desaparecidos, will violate one’s right to due process and make them vulnerable to abuses or even torture.
International convention on enforced disappearance
Aileen Bacalso, president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED), said that the Philippines has the highest cases of enforced disappearances in Southeast Asia. This, she said, does not include drug-related abduction cases under the present administration.
In a statement, Cadapan urged the Duterte administration to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which declares it a crime against humanity.
She said, “the Convention gives the victims’ families the right to seek reparations and to know the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones. The Philippine government’s non-participation in this convention is denying the victims of justice and remedies.” (JJE)