“Nothing has changed. In two years of the Aquino administration, there are already 11 victims of enforced disappearances.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Sherly Pascual has searched long and hard for her husband, Roberto Sr., who has been missing for more than 24 years now. At dusk of April 7, 1988, four armed men had forcibly taken Roberto out of their house in Navotas.
Sherly went to government agencies, police stations, hospital morgues and anywhere else where Roberto could have possibly been taken. But she still could not find him.
Her husband was seized during the administration of the late president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. Today, as the world marked the International Day of the Disappeared, Sherly joined other relatives of the disappeared in a protest at Plaza Miranda, Manila.
“Nothing has changed,” Sherly told Bulatlat.com. “In two years of the Aquino administration, there are already 11 victims of enforced disappearances.”
Desaparecidos (Families of Desaparecidos for Justice), an organization Sherly had joined, said that the practice of enforced disappearance did not stop with the lifting of martial law.
The group said: “Paramilitary groups, which began to turn up during martial law and continued to proliferate under Cory Aquino, are again sowing terror in far-flung provinces, doing the dirty work for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
The group cited as example the abduction of peasants from Magallona, Negros Occidental on July 19, 2011, by suspected members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Buncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB), a paramilitary group financed by the Aquino administration. The victims – Micheal Celeste, Jully Devero and Gerald Abale – remain missing to this day.
Desaparecidos blamed the government’s counter-insurgency program, the Oplan Bayanihan, for the continuing human rights violations.
“We also hold the Noynoy government answerable for the continuing impunity and injustice…” the group said.
Still no law criminalizing enforced disappearances
Karapatan dared Aquino to sign into law the long-pending bill criminalizing the act of enforced or involuntary disappearances and penalizing state security forces and government officials involved in such acts.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said it is critical for Congress and Aquino to pass House Bill 98, as the 15th session draws to a close for the coming election. In March, the House of Representatives passed on third reading House Bill 98 or “An Act Defining And Penalizing Enforced Or Involuntary Disappearance And For Other Purposes” or the Anti-Enforced or Anti-Involuntary Disappearance Bill.”
But it still has a long way to go before it becomes law.
As the bill hurdled third reading in the lower house, it is still to be transmitted to the Senate for concurrence. If it hurdled the Senate on third reading, a bicameral conference committee shall then be constituted to reconcile any differences in the bills from the two legislative chambers. Only after the bicameral committee has finalized a compromise version will the bill be transmitted to the President for signing.
“The measure appears just as ignored as the bill for justice and compensation for victims during martial law,” Palabay said.
In a related development, a peasant who was forcibly taken by soldiers at around 2 p.m. yesterday at Manjumlad village in Matnog, Sorsogon has been released this morning.
According to Vince Casihilan of Karapatan chapter in Bicol, Nilo Garalde, 27, was working on the coconut plantation with his uncle and his cousin when armed soldiers took him. Casihilan, whose group was able to talk with the witnesses, said the abductors belong to the 31st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. “They were in uniform but without nameplates,” Casilihan told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview.
Casihilan said they immediately reported the incident to the media and asked the military to surface Garalde. “We believe the military had been compelled to surface him due to pressure,” he said.
As of press time, Casihilan said he got news that Garalde had been released at around 10:30 a.m. today.
While the human rights leader said they were relieved that Garalde had been released, the human rights group said the military should be held accountable for the illegal arrest.
“He was blindfolded. He made to walk for hours and was accused of being a member of the NPA [New People’s Army],” Casilihan said. Karapatan-Bicol has yet to get the full account of the incident from the victim.
Karapatan-Bicol viewed the incident as a result of the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan, the counterinsurgency program of the Aquino administration.
The Bicol region registered the highest number of human rights violations under Aquino, with 33 killed and more than 2,000 victims of various forms of human rights violations.