Families of desaparecidos write letters to Pope Francis

nov152014 plaza miranda
November 2, 2014

MANILA – “Your Holiness, please intercede for us in seeking justice for our disappeared loved ones,” wrote families of desaparecidos to Pope Francis as they gathered at Plaza Miranda on All Souls Day.

As a renewal of vows to seek justice, they lighted candles and offered flowers to remember those who were forcibly abducted and disappeared by state security forces since martial law up to the present.

“It has been the practice of families and relatives of victims of enforced and involuntary disappearances to gather every November 2. Beyond remembering, we come together as a reminder that our loved ones have yet to be surfaced and the state’s policy of enforced disappearances be stopped,” said Desaparecidos secretary general Aya Santos.

It has become more significant as families of desaparecidos gathered to join the nation in awaiting the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines in January 2015.

Santos explained they have followed and listened to series of statements Pope Francis on justice and human rights. For the families, his visit is an opportune time to voice out the injustice and rights violations in the Philippines.

“Hope springs when on several occasions he made clear his firm stands to defend human rights and in seeking social justice. We turn to the Pope for support because under the current regime of Noynoy Aquino, human rights violations against the people intensify without let up. We stand as testimonies to the gross situation of human rights here,” Santos said.

Santos said there have been 21 victims of abduction under Pres. Aquino and has since added up to the number of desaparecidos since the Marcos dictatorship.

Despite the passage of the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law, the crime of enforced disappearance continues as a state policy under Oplan Bayanihan, Aquino’s counter-insurgency program. Also, as a DAP recipient program, it uses public funds to abduct, torture and disappear persons. It also uses funds to coddle the likes of butcher Jovito Palparan who is a ‘free man’ at Fort Bonifacio.

“We pray that the good Pope will listen to our plea and stand one with us in calling to stop enforced disappearances in the Philippines. Dear Pope, please heed our call for justice. We cry out to surface all the disappeared, in the Philippines and other parts of the world, such as in Latin America and Argentina, the Pope’s homeland,” said Santos.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis is from Argentina, a nation that also suffered the worst kind of human rights violations under a dictatorial rule in the 1970s. ###

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Gen. Año, Gen. Palparan, Maj. Baliaga, and ex-Gov. Reyes real life monsters; calls on Aquino to surface Ben Villeno—Desaparecidos

News Release
2 November 2013

Chief of Intelligence Gen. Eduardo Año, Ret. Gen. Jovito Palparan, “Maj. Harry Baliaga, ex-Gov. Joel Reyes and all those like them are the present-day real life monsters,”  Lorena “Aya” Santos, secretary general of Families of Desaparecidos for Justice (Desaparecidos) said in a program at the Baclaran Redemptorist Church.

“They abduct, torture, keep you away from your loved ones or kill you,” Santos said. “Unfortunately, despite their crimes these evil monsters are still out there hiding or pretending to be humans until their next victim,” Santos added.

Relatives and friends of the disappeared gather every 2nd of November to remember their missing loved ones. “We have no graves to visit for we never found the bodies of our relatives and friends, so we light candles here in Baclaran Church as our way of remembering them,” Santos said.

Gen. Eduardo Año, one of those charged for the abduction and disappearance of agriculturist Jonas Burgos was dropped from the charge list, along with other high military officials. Maj. Harry Baliaga, the only soldier who was charged for the abduction of Burgos had recently posted a P40,000 bail. Retired Gen. Palparan, implicated on the abduction and disappearance of two UP students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, remains a fugitive while, former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, implicated in the killing of environmentalist Gerry Ortega, is also in hiding.

Desaparecidos recently called Baliaga’s bail as an escape from prosecution. “We are outraged to see that every single perpetrator of enforced disappearances are given shield to elude prison. Yet, it is even more enraging that apart from letting these monsters go free, BS Aquino promotes them in positions that empower them more,” Santos said.

“The latest victim of enforced disappearance is Ben Villeno, a long time trade union leader in Southern Tagalog,” Santos mentioned. Villeno, 43, was abducted on August 27, 2013 while on his way to a relative’s house in Cavite. He was able to send a text message to inform a colleague that he was being tailed. Villeno lost contact since then. Apparently, he did not reach his relative’s house and he remains missing to date.

Villeno experienced several incidents of harassments and surveillances even during the Arroyo regime. “But, it is under this current regime that boasts of  an Anti-Disappearance law that Villeno became a victim of enforced disappearance. It shows that BS Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan is just as brutal as Oplan Bantay Laya,” Santos continued. “The Aquino government should be held accountable especially now that Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law is in place.”

“Like many desaparecidos, we still hope that Villeno is alive,” Santos said. “We are calling on any person who may know his whereabouts to inform us or Villeno’s family immediately,” Santos said.

The group Desaparcidos called on the Aquino government and all those in-charge of detention places, declared or undeclared, to abide by their own law, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Law. Desaparecidos also  demanded from the Aquino government to “Surface Ben Villeno and all desaparecidos! Stop enforced disappearances! Prosecute all perpetrators!” ###

Reference: Lorena “Aya” Santos, Secretary General, 0908-8121982


By Desaparecidos (Philippines), Fundacion Amancio Samuel Villatoro (Guatemala)

As we commemorate the International Day of the Disappeared, we express our solidarity with the families of the desaparecidos in all parts of the globe where a loved one was seized by state security forces and never seen again. Let us turn this day not a time to mourn our loss but a time to rise; a time to firmly resolve that our fight against enforced disappearance and other forms of human rights violations shall continue until justice prevails.

While the killing of a loved one is painful, the involuntary disappearance of one is even more excruciating. Being kept in limbo on their whereabouts makes one nurture hopeless hope that one day they will surface alive and hale. And endlessly guessing and imagining what they have gone through brings in the chill, the tormenting anguish.

But we choose and we dare to rise above this situation. Let us admit without accepting that in a society ruled by greed of the mighty and the powerful, exploitation and oppression of the weak persists. They will try to silence those who profess dissent and those who aspire for meaningful change. But let this not dampen our spirit nor cow us to submission; rather, let this inspire us to action, to spurn and change this system. Together we shall triumph, justice and peace shall prevail.

Enforced disappearance is a policy and practice of States meant to terrorize the people and to silence its critics and the dissenters. This is evident in the Latin Americas during the 1960’s to 1980’s where US-backed military dictators ruled. It was through Operation Condor that enforced disappearance was systematically perpetrated as part of counter-insurgency programs of military regimes. Initiated by the Central Intelligence Agency of the US, Operation Condor aimed to eradicate communism and its ideas and to suppress any potential opposition movements against its member governments. Soviet Union at that time poses as a threat to the world order which the US is the dominant power. Regimes in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil were supported by the US government through technical support, military aid and providing training in the US army School of the Americas, where the grotesque acts of torture, killings, disappearances, rape and other forms of rights abuses were instituted and taught in the operational field manuals.

The Guatemalan people have earlier suffered the pain brought about by the enforced disappearances of 45,000 persons due to the Civil War which started in the 1960’s. To protect the economic interest of US in Guatemala, the earlier phase of the counter-insurgency of Guatemalan government was under direct assistance of US Public Safety Advisor John P. Longan to senior military and police officials in implementing covert and overt anti-guerilla operations. State security forces began to abduct, torture and kill PGT (Guatemalan Labor Party).

And it is no coincidence that in the Philippines, Pres. Ferdinand Marcos then was laying the ground for the declaration of martial law and implemented it in 1971, while military dictators in Latin Americas were perpetrating various human rights violations.

In the Philippines, cases of enforced disappearance continue. From Marcos’ martial law, where 759 victims of enforced disappearance were recorded, the supposedly icon of democracy, Cory Aquino, surpassed the record and registered more than 821 cases of disappearance. During the Ramos administration, 39 disappearances were reported. Despite Joseph Estrada’s short stint in the presidency, 26 victims were documented during his time. Meanwhile, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s record on enforced disappearance shows 206 cases.

To this date, the current dispensation of Noynoy Aquino, who speaks of a changed military institution that has respect for human rights, registered 16 victims of enforced disappearance from the time of his ascendancy as president in 2010 to April 2013, despite the enactment of a law that criminalises the act of involuntary or enforced disappearance.

Attached to every President who came into power is a counter-insurgency operational plan — hatched, funded, and undertaken with a combination of brute force and covert means — to suppress the protest of a discontented people and combat the people’s movements for freedom and national democracy. At present, Aquino’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan has claimed 142 victims of extrajudicial killings, 76 cases of torture, more than 500 victims of illegal arrest. Such program is largely being driven by the US government’s complicity with the Philippine government to maintain its geo-political, economic and military dominance in the Philippines and in the Asia Pacific region. Thus, the same policy, tactics and techniques are applied to other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America where U.S. interests are at stake.

It is imperative that we, families of the disappeared, stand alongside the oppressed peoples of the world, unite and fight this rapacious policy and practice of our governments and U.S. imperialism. Also on this day, families of victims of enforced disappearances in Guatemala, Amancio Samuel Villatoro foundationalism,  MUSEUM OF THE MARTYRS, UNAMG, TRUTH AND JUSTICE FOR MILITARY JOURNAL. HIJOS GUATEMALA and in the Philippines, Families of Desaparecidos for Justice forms its solidarity and jointly commemorates remembers all desaparecidos in our countries and all over the world. Let our voices of protests and rage resound in every continent. Let us register our resolve to pursue justice for our missing loved ones and to fight for and build a society where the rights, welfare and the democratic aspirations of the people are respected and realized.