Families remember missing kin, write letters to Pope Francis – Manila

Richard James Mendoza | Demotix

Families of ‘desaparecidos’, or victims of enforced disappearances, gather at Plaza Miranda in Manila, Philippines on All Souls’ Day to commemorate their kin who have disappeared. They also wrote letters in time for Pope Francis’ visit next year.

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Kin of desaparecidos to Pope Francis: ‘Help us search for our loved ones’

“In the name of God who is just, please grant justice to the missing.”


MANILA – Guy Portajada wept as she looked at the photograph of her husband Armando Portajada Sr. who was abducted on July 31, 1987.

For 27 years, Guy and her family have never stopped hoping they would find Armando.

On Nov. 2, Guy and other families of desaparecidos gathered together at Plaza Miranda, lit candles and offered flowers for their missing loved ones.

This year’s reunion of Desaparecidos, an organization of families of victims of enforced disappearances, has become an occasion to appeal for Pope Francis’s help. They called on Pope Francis not only to help them in searching for their missing loved ones but also in ending the practice of enforced disappearances in the Philippines. According to Desaparecidos, there have been 21 victims of enforced disappearances under the Aquino administration.

Guy Portajada never loses hope of finding her missing husband, Armando Sr. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea /

Mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and friends of the disappeared wrote personal letters to Pope Francis, who is set to visit the country in January 2015.

One of the mothers, Lolita Robiños, pins her hopes on Pope Francis. Her son Romulos was dragged by unknown men from their home in Angeles City on Nov. 17, 2006. Like the other families of the disappeared, Robiños went to military camps, police stations, hospitals, and the courts but to no avail. At one time, she even went to a popular public affairs program on television but she was ignored.

Robiños wrote, “In the name of God who is just, please grant justice to the missing.”


Another mother of the disappeared, Erlinda Cadapan, vented out her frustration at the Aquino administration.

Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, who, along with Karen Empeño, was abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan on June 26, 2006, slammed what she calls as special treatment to retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr.

Palparan is the primary suspect in the kidnapping and serious illegal detentions charges filed by Cadapan and Karen’s mother, Concepcion Empeño. The local court recently granted Palparan’s petition to transfer him to military detention.

Lolita Robiños, pins her hopes on Pope Francis. She has been looking for her son Romulos for more than eight years (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/

Cadapan said during the program, “Now we see how this government coddles a criminal who has killed and disappeared innocent people.”

In her letter to Pope Francis, Empeño wrote, “Help the people in authority, most especially President Benigno Aquino III, to be sensitive to the human rights violations in our country…”

There are those who search for more than one relative. Isa Calubad held the photographs of her father Rogelio and brother Gabriel who were abducted by suspected state agents on June 17, 2006 in Calauag, Quezon.

Ipe Soco held the photographs of her mother, Gloria Soco and his relatives Prudencio Calubid and Celina Palma who were abducted on June 26, 2006 along the Maharlika Highway near Sipocot, Camarines Sur.

Like Rogelio Calubad and Prudencio Calubid, Lorena Santos’s missing father, Leo Velasco is also a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Santos said that 11 NDFP consultants have been disappeared in violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig).

Never giving up

Santos, secretary general of Desaparecidos said that they have followed and listened to the statements of Pope Francis on justice and human rights. She said the Pope’s visit to the Philippines next year is an opportune time to voice out the injustice and rights violations in the Philippines.

For Empeño, chairwoman of Desaparecidos who travelled all the way from Masinloc, Zambales, the struggle of the families of the disappeared is a never-ending one.

Her voice breaking, Empeño said, “Only in occasions like this I am able to embrace Karen.”

They draw strength from one another and their hope never dies.




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Families of victims of enforced disappearance or desaparacidos gathered in Plaza Miranda on All Souls’ Day to remember their loved ones, light candles and offer flowers. Under the Noynoy Aquino administration, there have been 21 victims of abduction perpetrated by state security forces and has since added up to the numbers of desaparacidos since the Marcos dictatorship. During the activity, families of desaparacidos wrote letters to Pope Francis asking for help to seek justice for their loved ones. According to Desaparacidos (Pamilya ng Desaparacidos para sa Katarungan), they have followed the statements of Pope Francis on justice and human rights. For them, it is an opportunity for the families to voice out the injustices and human rights violations in the Philippines.

The Pope will visit the Philippines on January 2015 to visit typhoon Yolanda ravaged areas in the Visayas.

Photos by Erika Cruz