History has shown that state fascism paved the way for countless cases of enforced disappearances. As we pay tribute to the individuals who fought hard for genuine social reform and who dedicated their lives for the country, let us remind ourselves that the recurring incidents of desaparecidos reflect a society full of impunity and a system that justifies authority exploitation.
Decades passed yet tyranny remained in the faces of our leaders; draconian measures implemented by every regime in the Philippines, contributed to the high numbers of human rights violations ultimately leading to an increase of desaparecido cases.
926 cases of enforced disappearances were documented under the Marcos regime. The Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND)—a mass organization of families, relatives, friends and colleagues of disappeared victims and surfaced desaparecidos—reported that the highest number of disappearances occured between the years 1983-1985, two years after Martial Law was lifted.
825 desaparecidos, all reported in the Cory Aquino administration. To say that she was the face of opposition and hope during Marcos’ ouster is an insult as it was the masses who struggled the most. Cory remains an oligarch, a member of the ruling elite class, a landlord who is in connivance with the comprador bourgeoisie and imperialists. Even if a dictator was pushed out of position, the fact remains that enforced disappearances continued under her authority because of the imposed “total war policy” against insurgents.
63 victims of unlawful abduction because of Joseph Estrada’s all-out war against terrorists. Back in 2000, Estrada declared war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); this paved the way for several disappearances of which up to this day, are not yet found.
Three years of accountability evasion from Major General Jovito “The Butcher” Palparan as stated by KARAPATAN. Palparan was under former President Gloria Arroyo and was responsible for the disappearances of farmer Manuel Merino and UP students, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2006. All the while, Palparan remains in a detention facility and not in prison.
One month after Benigno Aquino III signed the “Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012”, meant to penalize the act of enforced disappearances, Sheikh Mursalum and Muin Hamja were abducted by state forces and armed men. Bryan Epa, an anti-mining activist from Nueva Vizcaya, was kidnapped by local police in 2013. Two years later, KIDUMA public information officer, John Calaba, was sitting in front of his house when guards of the Consunji company invited him for a meal, however, he was never seen since then.
The reality is that foreign capitalists and local elites partner with government agencies in an attempt to take over ancestral domains. State forces retaliate with human rights violations and inhumane practices whenever peasant leaders and activists resist repression and forward agrarian reform, attempting to change the state of agricultural workers under a macho-feudal system. These people are either abducted or permanently silenced, discrediting the legitimacy of their advocacies. Because in the eyes of a fascist, providing equal rights for all could mean less opportunities for the privileged.
Government officials, under the Duterte administration, even shamelessly asked the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to delist 625 desaparecido cases occurring from 1975 to 2012. Not only are desaparecidos neglected, but the powers that be attempt to erase their narratives from history, stripping the victims’ families of their right to receive long-overdue justice.
Two years into his position, Duterte’s term accounted for 40 desaparecido reports. Especially with the Terror Law enacted, vague clauses and provisions place progressive individuals and even civilians are in risk. The threat of enforced disappearances will continue to heighten aggressively because the state eliminates people who remain critical despite their fascist actions.
Sickeningly, perpetrators are given high-ranking government positions instead of accountability. Eduardo Año, who was responsible for revolutionary Jonas Burgos’ disappearance, now spearheads one of the most vital departments in the national government. Jonas is a notable figure in the armed struggle fighting for farmers’ rights and the prevalence of human rights violations in Bulacan. Impunity allowed these people to roam freely, and to be brazen enough to even run for office.
No matter who is seated at Malacañang, oppression still pervades may be in the form of a dictatorship or through state abandonment, allowing abusive officials to take advantage of the innocent and the defenseless.
The desaparecidos are not mere statistics. They are not just a list of names; they are victims, a reflection of a rotten justice system. There is a unifying call to surface all of the disappeared across all presidential terms and to make the state forces liable for their immoral and corrupt affairs. We are living at a time when dissent and criticism may be regarded as a “terroristic activity,” further repressing our democratic rights. Until all individuals are found and justice is served, we must not remain quiet. Enforced disappearances could happen to any of us any time, especially under Duterte’s de facto martial law.
The government must act immediately in recovering and finding the disappeared because out there, an oblivious parent or child grieves for their lost loved ones. They should not use vulnerability as a free pass to display ruthless authority and they have no right to weaponize the law against citizens who are fighting for a nation, not for the few powerful, but for the majority of the Filipino people. Because the tighter the grip, the more the masses will resist as outright oppression will only amplify awareness and solidarity.
The Perspective remembers the desaparecidos from our ranks — Ma. Leticia Pascual-Ladlad, Cristina Catalla, and Rodelo Manaog, — all of whom disappeared under the Marcos dictatorship. [P]