HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Way Home for Desaparecidos
of victims of forced disappearance may still be looking for their missing
kin, but they have found strength in each other, and in their common
search for the truth. They lit candles on Nov. 2 as a symbol of their
ardent struggle for justice and to light the way home for their loved
GRIEVING FOR THE MISSING: Guy Portajada
breaks into tears as she and her granddaughter light candles for her
husband Armando, a unionist abducted in Makati in 1987 who remains
missing to this day.
PHOTO BY ARKIBONG BAYAN
Portajada brought a khaki jacket which her father Armando embroidered with
the face of martyred former Senator Ninoy Aquino at the back. Erlinda
Cadapan also brought a jacket, the favorite green one of her daughter
Sherlyn, a former athlete at the University of the Philippines (UP).
Oscar Empeño had with him a small, blue pillow which belongs to his
daughter Karen, also a former UP student.
Erlinda, and Oscar brought with them their kin’s personal items at the
Nov. 2 tribute for the desaparecidos, those who were abducted and
are still missing. The gathering was held at the Redemptorist Church in
Baclaran, Pasay City south of Manila.
Cadapan, 29, was pregnant when she was abducted with Karen Empeño, 23, and
farmer Manuel Merino in Hagonoy town, Bulacan on June 26. Witnesses
identified the abductors as soldiers of the Task Force Bulacan of the
Philippine Army. The Cadapan and Empeño families have filed a petition
for writ of habeas corpus at the Court of Appeals (CA).
father, Armando Portajada, had been missing for 19 years. He was the
Coca-Cola workers’ union president when he was abducted on July 31, 1987
with other families of desaparecidos, they lit candles beside the
pictures and names of their relatives. Some 300 candles along with names
on red and black cartolina and photos of the missing were arranged in
circles outside the Baclaran church.
spokesperson of Families of Desaparecidos for Justice (Desaparecidos),
said the candles were arranged in circles, symbolic of the families’
desperate search for their missing loved ones.
din ang ginawa nila sa amin, pinaikot-ikot (That’s what they did to
us, made us go in circles),” Portajada said.
means the military, police, and other government agencies, said Portajada.
The military would deny having the victims in custody, even if there were
witnesses identifying the armed abductors. The police would only record
their complaint but not investigate. The courts would deny their petition
to show the body.
continue to suffer, but cannot mourn, uncertain whether our missing loved
ones are still alive or already dead. There are no graves where we can
light candles or offer flowers,” said Desaparecidos in a statement.
lighting candles, Flor Cedro broke down, crying, “Hindi ko na kaya!
(I can’t take it anymore)”
husband Armando, Sr. was abducted on July 14, 1988 in North Bay Boulevard,
Navotas. She was comforted by Ghay’s mother, Guy, who also wept as she
lit candles beside her husband’s picture.
gathering, a 13-year-old niece of Teodoro Wenceslao read a poem about
their long search. Wenceslao was an activist who was abducted and had
disappeared in Pilar, Cawit, Cebu province on December 23, 1987.
Relatives of Philip Limjoco, who was abducted on May 8, brought a
tarpaulin with his picture and dedication to his commitment in serving the
Ayroso brought a small jar of coconut and garlic oil, which she made from
her husband Honorio’s recipe. Honorio, a former political detainee, was
abducted with Bayan Muna party (People First) coordinator Johnny Orcino in
San Jose City, Nueva Ecija on Feb. 9, 2002.
Elizabeth Calubad brought her husband Rogelio’s favorite tin cup from
which she drank during the gathering. Rogelio and his son Gabriel were
abducted on June 17 in Calauag, Quezon.
Relatives of desaparecidos under the Marcos dictatorship, the
Aquino and Arroyo administrations were introduced to each other, and
became familiar with the other cases of disappearances at the gathering.
Curious church-goers who looked on during the candle-lighting ceremonies
were horrified as they eyed the photos of desaparecidos.
1,600 na ang biktima ng sapilitang pagkawala, mula kay Marcos, hanggang
kay Arroyo,” (There are more than 1,600 victims of forced
disappearances from the administration of Marcos up to Arroyo.) explained
one of the relatives, as two onlookers shook their heads.
human rights alliance Karapatan has documented some 186 victims of
enforced disappearance under the Arroyo government, from 2001 to October
group Desaparecidos is among the secondary complainants which filed a case
against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the
People’s Tribunal. Ghay said that as disappearances continue and the
number of victims increases, the ranks of human rights defenders, as well
as government dissenters would also swell.
Referring to the circular arrangement of the candles and the names and
pictures of victims, Ghay said: “Circle of hope din ang ibig sabihin
niyan, at simbolo ng pagkakaisa at lakas ng mga pamilyang nakikipaglaban
para sa katarungan (It’s also a circle of hope, a symbol of the unity
and strength of the families who are fighting for justice.)”
alab ng aming paglaban ang gagabay sa kanilang daan pauwi (The flame
of our struggle will light their way home),” she added. Bulatlat
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© 2006 Bulatlat
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