This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (
Vol. VI, No. 39, Nov. 5-11, 2006


Lighting the Way Home for Desaparecidos

Families 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 ones.

By Bulatlat

Ghay 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. 

Ghay, 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.

Sherlyn 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).

Ghay’s 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 in Makati. 

Along 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. 

Ghay, 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.

Ganyan din ang ginawa nila sa amin, pinaikot-ikot (That’s what they did to us, made us go in circles),” Portajada said. 

“They” 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.

“We 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.


After lighting candles, Flor Cedro broke down, crying, “Hindi ko na kaya! (I can’t take it anymore) 

Her 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.

At the 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 people.

Dee 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

Mahigit 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. 

The human rights alliance Karapatan has documented some 186 victims of enforced disappearance under the Arroyo government, from 2001 to October this year. 

The group Desaparecidos is among the secondary complainants which filed a case against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Permanent 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.)” 

Ang alab ng aming paglaban ang gagabay sa kanilang daan pauwi (The flame of our struggle will light their way home),” she added. Bulatlat


© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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