“We vow to expose the blood debts of Arroyo.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – JL Burgos was seething in anger when he faced journalists a day after Gloria Macagapal-Arroyo was sworn in as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Without a hint of the usual grin on his face, JL said in Filipino, “Nagsama-sama na ang mga magnanakaw, sinungaling, mamamatay-tao, (They have come together: the thieves, liars, and murderers.)” referring to President Rodrigo Duterte, Arroyo and the Marcoses.
JL’s brother Jonas was abducted on April 28, 2007 inside a mall in Quezon City by state security forces. The family had gone to every court and exhausted everything to find Jonas. On October 12, 2017, one of the suspects in the enforced disappearance was acquitted. The alleged mastermind, Eduardo Año, has been appointed by Duterte as secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Jonas is just one of the 204 victims of enforced disappearances during the Arroyo administration.
Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, another desaparecido, wept as she held a picture of her daughter. “I have been crying since last night,” Cadapan told the media in Filipino. Cadapan said that while Arroyo was celebrating her return to power, she and other families continue to look for their missing loved ones.
Sherlyn and Karen Empeño, both students of the University of the Philippines Diliman, were forcibly taken by state security forces in Bulacan on June 26, 2006.
The case filed by Cadapan and Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen, against Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. is still with the Malolos Regional Trial Court. Palparan, Arroyo’s favorite general, is detained at the headquarters of the Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio.
Cadapan maintained that the enforced disappearances and other human rights violations were carried out as part of Arroyo’s counterinsurgency programs Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2.
Such counterinsurgency program was also blamed by Philip Alston, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, for the spate of extrajudicial killings during Arroyo’s reign.
At the height of extrajudicial killings of activists, Alston visited the country in February 2007. A year after, he released his findings and recommendations in April 2008.
Human rights group Karapatan documented 1,206 victims of extrajudicial killings, and thousands of illegal arrests under Arroyo.
Evangeline Hernandez’s daughter Benjaline was among those killed in the early years of the Arroyo presidency. Beng and three others were shot dead by soldiers and paramilitary forces in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato on April 5, 2002.
Beng’s case was brought to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in March 2006 with the Philippine government as a state party. The UNHRC found the Philippine government guilty of violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Hernandez said the Philippine government did not enforce the UN resolution and instead acquitted one of the suspects Sgt. Antonio Torilla.
“It’s been two decades and we still have not attained justice,” Evangeline said. “We will resurrect our cases. We vow to expose the blood debts of Arroyo.”
One hundred three journalists were also killed during Arroyo’s term. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said Arroyo’s record in “still the worst average annual death under any president.”
The Ampatuan massacre – where 58 individuals, of whom 32 journalists were killed – also happened during the administration of Arroyo. The primary suspects in the case who belong to the Ampatuan clan were Arroyo’s closest allies.
Raymund Villanueva, NUJP deputy secretary general, said it was also during Arroyo’s term that media groups such as NUJP, Kodao Productions, Bulatlat and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) were branded by the military as “enemies of the state.”
Arroyo, as commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Arroyo should be held accountable, said Roneo Clamor, Karapatan secretary general.
“She knew and did not correct the wrongs and punish the perpetrators of human rights violations,” Clamor said, citing the torture and detention of his wife and 42 other health workers or the so-called Morong 43.
Like Año and Palparan, the military officials implicated in the torture of Morong 43 were also promoted.
“It all boils down to impunity,” Clamor said.
Arroyo, primary respondent to the civil case filed by members of the Morong 43 with a local court in Quezon City, has denied the detention and torture of the health workers.
Clamor said that when his youngest son heard the news on TV, the nine-year-old boy blurted out in Filipino, “Isn’t she the one who detained my mother?”
The boy was just over a year old when his mother Merry Mia was detained at Camp Bagong Diwa.
“If Arroyo and the Marcoses have been punished, this would not happen. They were not held accountable for any crime,” Clamor said.
Clamor said Arroyo and the Marcoses supported Duterte’s campaign for presidency. Early on his presidency, Duterte offered pardon to Arroyo, who was facing corruption charges.
The relatives called on the Filipino people to join them in their call for justice.