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.

Rights groups: Torture persists under PNoy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

David Lozada |
June 26, 2013

MANILA, Philippines – Torture and illegal detention are still being committed by government forces in the Philippines, and they must be stopped, human rights groups said on the occasion of the United Nations International Day in Support of Torture Victims, June 26.

Around 200 activists and human rights advocates marched from Avenida to Mendiola to protest the Aquino administration’s alleged use of torture to extract information from illegal detainees.

Torture is still prevalent despite the administration’s good governance campaign, according to Karapatan chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez, a victim of torture during the Martial Law years.

“No matter how the Aquino government denies the use of torture, state security forces in the Armed Forces of The Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) resort to and apply it to their victims, inside and outside prison,” Enriquez said.

Members of the non-governmental organization Karapatan led the rally attended by militant organizations including Desaparecidos, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and Bayan.

Torture incidents

Citing a few cases, Karapatan and Desaparecidos maintained that torture and enforced disappearances are happening nationwide.

In Quezon City, security guard Rolly Panesa was reportedly mistaken for a top-ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). He was taken to Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna, where he was detained and allegedly tortured.

On February 28, 2012, ten soldiers of the 87th infantry brigade of the Philippine Army (IBPA) in Samar allegedly tortured suspected gun owners Richard Oblino, a 25-year-old farmer, and 16-year-old nephew Orlan.

Meanwhile, Cesar Garganta of Macalelon, Quezon was beaten up for 3 hours by soldiers of the IBPA. The soldiers insisted that Garganta was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Anti-torture law

During the first half of the Aquino administration, Karapatan claimed it has documented 76 incidents of torture. These numbers registered more than half of the 128 recorded cases under former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, the group said.

Families of Desaparecidos for Justice secretary-general Lorena Santos said that 16 cases of disappearances have been recorded.

“In fact, two incidents of enforced disappearances were reported right after the enactment of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012,” Santos added.

Enriquez further accused the government of violating its own laws.

“The Anti-Torture Law…has not prevented the government to use torture to extract information from detainees or abducted persons,” she added.

Criminalizing torture

Karapatan and Desaparecidos accused the government of using Oplan Bayanihan, the government’s counter-insurgency program, as a tool to illegally detain suspects.

“The government cannot fool the people by simply dishing out pro-human rights hype in media…Aquino cannot dismiss the torture victims as isolated cases,” Enriquez said.

Rappler tried to get the side of the Palace but still has not gotten a reply as of late Wednesday evening.

The Anti-Torture Law of 2009 was enacted to criminalize torture and other inhuman treatment and punishment of persons. It seeks to eliminate impunity and abuse of power in the Philippines.

The bill took 23 years in the House of Representatives before it was enacted into law.

On December 21, 2012, President Benigno Aquino III signed the Desaparecidos Bill into law, making the Philippines the first country in Asia to have such a legislation. The bill makes the crime of enforced disappearance punishable by life imprisonment.

Filipinos must do their part in condemning and stopping such violations of human rights, Enrique stressed.

“The people must remain ever vigilant of the intensification of fascist attacks by this government just like the struggle the people waged against the fascist attacks of former dictator Marcos,” Enriquez added. –With reports from Mark Demayo/

A Question

Protesters wear Jonas Burgos masks during a protest in Manila, August 2007. Photo by Candice Reyes

Candice Reyes | Facebook Note

President Benigno Aquino III should be more careful about what he says.

Editha Burgos, mother of activist Jonas Burgos who was abducted on April 2007 asks, “With Malacanang’s tough branding of human rights violations as leftist propaganda, are the authorities now saying that I will never see my son again?”

What does she mean by that question?

In an interview with Radio New Zealand last Tuesday (October 23) President Aquino was asked regarding the administration’s record on human rights abuses and his comment on groups that are critical of the government’s alleged inaction on the cases.

He cited the leftist groups to be “very good at propaganda.”

“Well, we won’t claim that there are no human rights issues within our country. But I think in the past two weeks, for instance, we’ve had a lot of abuses done on state agents. When they were enforcing, for instance, eviction notice on land issues, they were pelted with human waste and a lot of danger has happened to our people. Perhaps I keep saying that human right is for everybody. Not because you’re… a government employee that your rights are any less than any other citizens,” Aquino said in the interview.

That could be true but…

Why was there no mention of  what happened on the morning of October 18 (just last week) in Tampakan South Cotabato, when two-months pregnant Juvy Capion, wife of anti-mining Blaan tribe leader, was killed with their two children who are 8 and 13, whose bodies were dragged out of their hut with bullets on their heads… or was it “propaganda”? because allegedly, Armed Forces of the Philippines 27th Infantry Battalion happened to be at the scene?

What about Jonas Burgos’ case, Maguindanao massacre, and the hundreds of nameless faces who are victims of torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances?

In Burgos’ statement, she said, “To call this propaganda and to label it leftist is the height of insensitivity to a mother who continues to search for her missing son. I stand before the Lord, who is truth Himself, in witness of this truth.

Since 2007, together with families of “desaparecidos” (disappeared), the Burgos family has always been upfront with the military to surface Jonas.

“Now, when you are looking for a missing loved one, is it justified to label you as leftist? Unless the definition has been changed, I would not subscribe to what has been officially said by Malacanang. To seek justice and to right a wrong done to families who have been victims of enforced disappearances, will that be considered a leftist act?” Burgos asked.

“Today, I fear that the message relayed in such blatant act by authorities can be a justification for human rights violators to continue their abuses.”

A New Zealand-based group, Philippine Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA), also reacted on Aquino’s statement. “It’s not only the “extreme left” who are critical of the unabated killings under your watch,”

They cited institutions like the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other organizations here and abroad who’ve also raised their concern on the continuing human rights abuses in the country.

Was the President just misinterpreted with the use of the word “propaganda”?

Or was it a way to deflect a rather confronting question?

Thoughtless words can pierce.

But it can be healed–if the question of the victim’s mother or father, sibling or child finally receives a truthful answer.

“Where is justice?”