Rights advocates worry about safety of missing activists
BAGUIO CITY—Human rights advocates in the Cordillera on Thursday sounded the alarm following reports that an indigenous peoples’ rights defender and his companion went missing in Taytay, Rizal, on April 28.
In a statement, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) said Gene Roz Jamil “Bazoo” de Jesus and Dexter Capuyan were reported missing by their families after losing contact with them since 9 p.m. on April 28.
De Jesus, 27, and Capuyan, 56, both studied at the University of the Philippines Baguio (UP Baguio) and became student leaders.
According to the CHRA, De Jesus, a journalism graduate, served as chair of the Alliance of Concerned Students and the Council of Leaders at UP Baguio.
Capuyan, on the other hand, was a social science student; a former editor in chief of the UP Baguio Outcrop, the student publication; and chair of the League of Filipino Students in the 1980s.
At the time they were reported missing, De Jesus was working as an information and networking officer for the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, while Capuyan was an activist-leader based in Benguet province’s capital town of La Trinidad.
Citing accounts from the relatives of the two, the CHRA said Capuyan was in Rizal to seek medical attention, but it was not immediately known why he was with De Jesus when they went missing.
CHRA feared that the two were in government custody, saying the police and military accused Capuyan of being a ranking officer of the Chadli Molintas Command of the New People’s Army operating in the Ilocos and Cordillera regions and had a P1.85-million bounty on his head.
“We believe that state security units have them in custody, and we fear for their safety and well-being,” CHRA said. “We urge whoever holds them to surface them immediately, respect their rights and treat them humanely.”
As of Thursday, the military and the police had yet to issue statements on the allegations that De Jesus and Capuyan were in the custody of state agents. In a Facebook post on Wednesday, De Jesus’ mother, Dittz, said they were worried about the safety of her son and Capuyan.
“This is very difficult for our family … We’re trying to act normal when facing this, but behind it all is our anguish. We’re hoping that the search will turn out well,” she said in Filipino.
She added: “We would like to make a public appeal to help us locate his whereabouts. For any information you could give, please contact these numbers: [CHRA]—0918-9199007.”In a separate statement, De Jesus’ batchmates at UP Baguio vowed to never stop searching for him.
“We strongly condemn any act of violence or intimidation toward individuals who speak out and fight for what they believe in,” their statement read.
They said De Jesus was a “tireless advocate for accessible and quality education for all” and was a staunch champion of the Free Tertiary Education Bill.The UP Baguio employees’ union also raised concern over the safety of Capuyan and De Jesus as it joined the call to locate them.
The UP Baguio Crisis Committee started investigating the matter on Thursday.