Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 36              October 12 - 18, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Walang Bakas� Makes a Mark

A television special on state-sponsored abductions showed how those in power silence persons who go against them, that the abductions go on, even after the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship.


The network�s teasers said it was the network�s most courageous documentary ever produced.  A non-traditional program at a time-slot when just about everybody wants to see the usual old movie. 

True to its promise, �Walang Bakas,� (Without a Trace) a two-hour documentary-drama shown over the network GMA 7 last Oct. 5, discussed the dangerous lives of the people who have disappeared without a trace. 

The docu-drama presented the lives of four desaparecidos, a term that came from Latin America referring to victims of involuntary disappearances and which the Philippine militant movement has adopted. Each case occurred under a different term, covering the Corazon Aquino presidency to the incumbent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presidency. 

The cases depicted were those of:

  • Armando Portajada, a union leader in a factory in Pasong Tamo, Makati. Portajada was abducted on July 31, 1987, one of the many who disappeared after then President Aquino declared her �total war policy.�  Desaparecidos, a human rights group, says that the most number of disappearances (821 in all) in recent Philippine history have been documented under the Aquino regime. 

  • Romy Legaspi, a journalist in Zambales. Legaspi was abducted on Jan. 13, 1993 under the Ramos regime.  Witnesses say his body was burned after heavy torture. 

  • Edgar Bentain, the casino employee who leaked the video footage of President Joseph Estrada gambling in 2000. Bentain was working for the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) and the video tape was released to media by Estrada�s opponents. Soon after, Bentain disappeared. 

  • Datu Abdullah, a community leader, was the most recent victim. He was accused of bombing in Davao in April 2003.

The historical presentation strongly suggested that even after the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos, the state continues to employ abductions � called the worst form of human rights violation � to silence persons who go against the government.

Instead of the usual re-enactment found in public affairs shows, the producers of �Walang Bakas� took effort to produce a good 15-minute drama for each story.  It was effective in showing the emotions of the characters.  It also satisfied the visual-hungry viewers who are used to tele-novelas (soap operas).

The docu-drama made use of popular Filipino novelty songs as background to the serious presentation.  Aside from lightening the mood, it was a good and entertaining way to present the ironies of life. 

For example, while everyone was dancing to the tune of �Spageti� (a novelty song popularized by the dance group Sexbomb Girls), no one noticed a Muslim being abducted for alleged involvement in the Davao bombing. 

But the biggest credit goes to the families of the desaparecidos who were not afraid to come out and tell their story. They poured out their pain and their tears despite the desire to keep their anguish to themselves.

They narrated how desperate they became in their search for their loved ones. They went to morgues and funeral parlors while some asked for help from spirit questers.

The desperation was especially vivid in the words uttered by Portajada�s wife: �kahit mga taong grasa hindi ko pinapalagpas, nagbabaka-sakali akong isa sa kanila ang asawa ko �(I would even look at vagrants in case one of them was my husband). 

The children were also fearless in revealing their angst, as shown in a letter written by Legaspi�s son: �Sabi ng mga kaibigan ko hindi ka naman daw nawala, iniwanan mo lang kami para sumama sa ibang babae�  (My friends tell me you were not really abducted, that you just left us to live with another woman).

But most importantly, the loss of their loved ones did not silence them. Rather, the families of the victims of involuntary disappearances have found strength in each other and continued hope that together they can attain justice.

GMA 7�s �Walang Bakas� succeeds in delivering a strong message of injustice, not only for the victims but more so for their families who carry the load of an unending trauma.  Bulatlat.com

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