VIDEO | Dead or alive? Families remain clueless as they join day to remember ‘disappeared’ loved ones

Tricia Aquino |

MANILA, Philippines – Twenty-one-year-old Mirasol Laher of Quezon province could neither mourn nor find closure for the loss of her husband Felix Balaston.

Losing him didn’t mean that Mirasol was certain that her husband died. She recalled that at about 8 a.m., a year ago, Felix left their house to harvest banana bud and buy rice for lunch.

Nag-antay-antay ako ng tanghali, tapos walang dumating [ I waited for him until noon but he never came back],” said Mirasol.

After three days, Mirasol learned that Felix was abducted by soldiers because he was allegedly a member of the communist New People’s Army.

After learning about the abduction, Mirasol didn’t know what happened next to her husband. She wants to believe that Felix is still alive and will soon be reunited with her and their child but there are times Mirasol fears that her husband is already dead.

On Thursday, August 30,  during the International Day of the Disappeared, Mirasol joined other families at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila in remembering their lost loved ones.

The gathering, led by the non-government human rights group Karapatan and Desaparecidos, an organization of the families of the victims of enforced disappearances, urged the government to address the cases of those who got lost without a trace.

According to the groups, there is a pattern that shows that state agents are the ones behind enforced disapperances – they abduct the victim and then deny that the abduction took place.

The groups said the same pattern had happened to the abduction case of Lilia Devero’s husband, Jully, of Negros Occidental.

In May last year, local police went to  the home of the Deveros and accused July of monopolizing the gathering  of charcoal in their area.  Jully denied the charge. He said that while he did collect charcoal, he only did so from their own land.

Lilia recounted that the angry policemen threatened Jully that they would return for him. Two months later, seven men allegedly from the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade barged into the home of the Deveros and accused Jully of hiding guns at their residence.

Finding none, the men tied Jully and brought him to the home of one of his children. Lilia insisted on coming with them. It was here that the RPA-ABB allegedly received a call from their “bossing,” who instructed them to take Jully away. They told Lilia not to worry. They said they would bring Jully back the following day.

Morning came, and Jully was nowhere to be found. Lilia learned that two more farmers were abducted that night, and more were hurt.

She reported the incident to the police, as well as to a congressman. She was given P3,000 for her trouble, but no other help arrived. Today, she and her family live in fear. They no longer have a home in the 13-hectare land that they used to tend for the owners who live abroad.

American mission worker for the United Church of Christ, Rebecca Lawson, understands the plight of people like Mirasol and Lilia, who until now do not know what actually happened to their husbands.

“This right should really be respected. And I would appeal to the Aquino administration to take seriously this issue because it would do a great deal of good for the peace and justice situation of the Philippines if these families could know what happened to their loved ones. And for those who are currently detained, if there are any who are still alive, [I hope that they will] be surfaced and for them to be properly given due justice,” said Lawson.

As her Church has a “very strong stand for peace and human rights,” Lawson assists families in documenting cases and bringing these to the court. She also helps families of the disappeared address other concerns like keeping the children in school and relocating families who no longer feel safe in their homes.

“As a church worker, I pray for the whole of the Philippines that this would be something that could be brought to an end,” said Lawson. “This could very much be helped by addressing the situation of impunity – meaning that people who have done these things are allowed to go unpunished. If people are really held accountable for their actions, this situation can end,” said Lawson.


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