Families of the desaparecidos, or victims of enforced disappearances, once again gathered on All Souls’ Day to pay tribute to their loved ones and reiterate their demand for justice.
“With no tombs where to light candles and offer flowers, we tirelessly gather every year to remember the disappeared. But we shall not mourn in silence because there are persons in authority who should be haunted by their crimes against the disappeared, their families, and the Filipino people,” said Lorena Santos, secretary general of the group Desaparecidos, or Families of the Disappeared for Justice.
At the camp-out of the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2015 in Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila, however, the relatives of the disappeared since the Marcos martial law era to the present Aquino regime lit candles and offered flowers amid the photographs of their missing kin. It was their expression of solidarity with the Lumad and the people of Mindanao who have borne the brunt of the AFP counter-insurgency operations in recent months.
Almost 700 farmers and Lumad from Mindanao are in Manila to raise their voices against the worst attacks on their rights, including killings and enforced disappearances and the destruction of their schools and communities due to intensified military operations.
“For adding 26 more persons to the list of the missing, Pres. Aquino must be haunted by the desaparecidos’ cry for justice,” claimed Santos. Hundreds have been politically abducted under the previous regimes and are missing to this day.
“Enforced disappearance remains as a policy of the Aquino government in consonance with Oplan Bayanihan. Together with extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced evacuation, enforced disappearances are most felt by our Lumad brothers and sisters,” stressed Santos.
Of the 26 victims of enforced disappearance under Aquino — as of September 30, according to Karapatan, 10 are from Mindanao. Three of the 10 are Moro, while two are Lumad.
The latest victim is John Calaba, a Manobo and anti-mining activist from Saranggani province, who was last seen on April 30, 2015. He was lured in the guard post of the David M. Consunji, Inc. (DMCI) premises and never came out. Witnesses claim having heard gunshots afterwards. Calaba actively opposed DMCI operations in his community.
The alleged DMCI takeover of the Manobo land started a decade ago. But in 2014, they were able to reclaim it and started planting coffee. DMCI came back and destroyed what they Lumad had cultivated.
DMCI guards are trained by the AFP and are recruited into the Special Civilian Auxiliary Army (SCAA).
“From north to south, families of the disappeared cry out for justice. And the fact that almost half of those who disappeared during the Aquino regime come from Mindanao shows that the policy of abducting and disappearing persons have intensified in the island,” explained Santos.
Santos further said that “the Lumad and the people of Mindanao are on target owing to their staunch opposition against large-scale mining and other projects that plunder their ancestral domain. “
Desaparecidos has slammed the Aquino government for riding roughshod over the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law in spite of the persistent struggle of families and rights advocates to provide a legal remedy for political abduction one of the worst human rights violations on record, and are widely believed to have been perpetrated by state security forces.
Desaparecidos secretary general
KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights