MANILA – While most Filipinos went to the tombs of their departed loved ones, relatives of victims of enforced disappearances gathered at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, or popularly known as Redemptorist Church in Baclaran, and lit candles for the missing, Nov. 2.
Members of the Desaparecidos and their supporters offered flowers to hundreds abducted by suspected state agents. They do not have graves to visit; only photographs were lined up at the church yard.
The Redemptorist Church has opened its doors for the relatives of the disappeared since one of its priests, Fr. Rudy Romano, was also abducted on July 11, 1985 in Tisa, Labangon, Cebu City. Fr. Romano, who helped organize farmers, fisherfolk and urban poor during the Marcos dictatorship, remains missing to this day.
“It is difficult to describe how the families of the missing feel,” Lorena Santos, deputy secretary general of Desaparecidos, said. “It is not enough to say that we are sad, or angry, or that we struggle hard not to lose hope. What is even more painful is that we get no help from the government in our search for our loved ones.”
Santos’s father, Leo Velasco, was abducted by suspected state agents in February 2007 in Cagayan de Oro City. “Days and years pass by. Our journals have been filled with our letters for them. Their children and grandchildren have grown up and still, they are gone,” Santos said.
All the way from Davao City, Bayan Intise, whose father and mother are both missing, also joined the gathering. His father, Federico, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and her mother Nelly and another NDFP consultant, Gloria Canabiral, were snatched away by suspected state agents on October 26, 2006 in General Santos City.
“The government thought the relatives would cower in fear,” Intise said. “Instead, families have been emboldened to fight for justice.”
Intise pointed out that enforced disappearance is committed under the various counterinsurgency programs of the government. “The Aquino administration proves no different; his Oplan Bayanihan is like the previous repressive oplans [operational plans].”
According to Karapatan, there have been 12 victims of enforced disappearance under the Aquino administration.
Desaparecidos urged President Benigno Aquino III to sign the Anti-Enforced Disappearance bill into law. The bill seeks to criminalize the practice of enforced disappearance in the country.