‘Rights abuse to worsen if UN delists disappeared’

/ 07:23 AM February 20, 2019
‘Rights abuse to worsen if UN delists disappeared’

VANISHING JUSTICE Families of “desaparecidos,” or victims of involuntary disappearances, mark All Souls’ Day with an indignation rally outside Quiapo Church in Manila in this Nov. 2, 2018, file photo. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Relatives and supporters of people who had involuntarily disappeared since the Marcos dictatorship were enraged by the Duterte administration’s move to delist 625 cases of enforced disappearances from the records of a United Nations agency, as they warned that this human rights violation would worsen if the UN body agreed.

They joined human rights groups on Tuesday in urging the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to keep the cases open and to look into others that have not been reported.


“I strongly object to the Philippine government’s motion to delist cases of enforced disappearance, which include my daughter, Sherlyn,” 72-year-old Asher Cadapan told the Inquirer on Tuesday.

Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño were two University of the Philippines students who were abducted by soldiers in the coastal town of Hagonoy, Bulacan province, in June 2006 and later tortured and sexually assaulted, according to court records.


The Malolos Regional Trial Court found former Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. guilty of kidnapping and illegally detaining the two students and sentenced him to up to 40 years in prison along with Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado Jr. and Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio.

The two students remain missing.

“This [delisting of cases] will not help the victims. [Up to] now justice hasn’t been served because we still can’t embrace our missing daughter,” Cadapan said.

“Abductions perpetrated by government agencies will only turn to worse if these cases will be delisted,” he said.

PHRC justification

Senior officials led by Undersecretary Severo Catura of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) formally moved to delist 625 cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances “mostly attributed to government forces between 1975 and 2012” during a meeting with the UN body in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Thursday.

It justified the action by saying that the government had already “put in place a strong legal framework and institutional mechanisms to address this issue.”


Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen Empeño, said “we have to protest” against the “grave injustice” and “sheer stupidity” of the PHRC.

“This is so infuriating,” she told the Inquirer by phone.

The conviction of Palparan and the other soldiers “concretely showed that they were the perpetrators of [Sherlyn and Karen’s] disappearance,” Empeño said.

“What reasons could the Philippine government still fabricate to delist the cases?” she said.

In Iloilo City, May Wan Dominado, whose family had filed a complaint with the UN body over the abduction of her mother nearly 12 years ago, also opposed the government move.

Former political detainee Ma. Luisa Posa-Dominado has been missing since armed men abducted her and fellow activist Nilo Arado on April 12, 2007, in Oton town, Iloilo province.

She was arrested four times and detained for a total of seven years under dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“Our family does not believe the sincerity of the present administration to give due justice to the victims of enforced disappearance. In fact we see the delisting as a sign of its disingenuity,” Dominado said.

“The only reply of the government is that Luisa is a member of the (New People’s Army), as if such claim would justify any human rights violation that she may suffer,” she said.

Alleged insurgents

Dominado said her mother and farmer Michael Celeste, who had also gone missing, were included in a list of alleged insurgents that the Department of Justice sought to be declared as terrorists in February last year, or after more than a decade since Luisa’s abduction.

Cristina Guevarra, secretary general of Desaparecidos, a group of families of the disappeared, appealed to the UN agency to look further into the cases of enforced disappearances and their alleged cover-up under the Duterte administration.

“The Duterte government should not be believed in its claims that the mere presence of so-called legal mechanisms, or even recognition, is equivalent to providing space for respite for the victims. This move of delisting desaparecidos is a malicious scheme to hide its own crimes of disappearances and impunity,” Guevarra said.


Kristina Conti, a lawyer for the Empeño and Cadapan families, described the attempt to delist the cases as a “travesty.”

“Note that most of the cases that will be delisted are in many ways connected to the state. Like in the case of Jonas Burgos, where circumstances have pointed to the military as his abductors,” Conti said.

Burgos, son of the late press freedom icon Jose Burgos Jr., has been missing since he was abducted by suspected military men at a Quezon City shopping mall on April 28, 2007.

Lawyer Edre Olalia, president of National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said the government’s move made the disappeared persons “disappear twice over.”

“They want to erase from our collective historical memory the indelible mark of victims of authoritarianism and repression,” Olalia said. —With reports from Carmela Reyes-Estrope, Maricar Cinco and Nestor P. Burgos Jr.

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TAGS: forced disappearances, Involuntary Disappearances, Jovito Palparan Jr., Karen Empeño, Sherlyn Cadapan, UN disappearances list
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