On All Souls Day, kin and friends of “desaparecidos” challenged candidates in next year’s Philippine national elections to stop enforced disappearances.
“It doesn’t matter if days or years have passed since our relatives went missing, the anxiety and agony is still in our hearts,” said Erlinda Cadapan, chairperson of the group Desaparecidos.
“We still don’t know what happened to them. We don’t even have graves to visit,” said Cadapan, mother of missing student Sherlyn Cadapan.
Yearly, the group offers flowers and candles for missing loved ones, but the gathering has been postponed this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Cadapan said that “dozens of people from all walks of life had been forcibly disappeared by state forces” since the years of martial law in the country in the 1970s.
“Some of them had been found dead. But for most of us, we’re clueless to what happened to our loved ones,” she said.
“Some relatives of desaparecidos even passed away without knowing the whereabouts of their missing kin and friends,” added Cadapan.
She cited the case of Elena Tijamo, a development worker in the central Philippine province of Cebu who was abducted by suspected state agents in her home on Bantayan Island in June 2020.
On September 1, a year after the abduction, she was found dead in a funeral home in Quezon City in the national capital and was registered under a different name.
Under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, there had been 19 individuals who had been reported as victims of enforced disappearances.
Cadapan challenged those who are running for national and local posts in next year’s elections to include human rights in their agenda, especially the elimination of cases of enforced disappearances.
“We are hoping that the future leaders of this country will prioritize upholding people’s rights and welfare, specifically in eradicating cases of involuntary disappearances and other human rights violations in the country,” she said.
“We are also calling them to help us in finding out the truth and surface our missing loved ones,” she said, as she reminded the public “to be vigilant and vote for those who are pro-people and have utmost respect for human rights.”
Data from human rights group Karapatan showed that there had been 254 victims of enforced disappearance in the Philippines — 206 during the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from 2001 to 2010, at least 29 during the administration of the late president Benigno Aquino III from 2010 to 2016, and 19 from 2016 to July 30, 2021 under the Duterte administration.