Open Letter to President Benigno S. Aquino

Today is Tatay’s 7th year of disappearance. My father, Leo Velasco, disappeared under the Gloria Arroyo government. On that day, February 19, 2007, Tatay was walking along Pres. Aguinaldo St. in Cagayan de Oro. He stopped to buy a stick of cigarette when a gray Mitsubishi L300 van suddenly stopped and men grabbed him.

I never saw him since then.

DSC_0354I was shattered to find out Tatay was abducted. The first few hours of trying to find Tatay was excruciating. I worried thinking he was being tortured. Days passed and still there was no sign of Tatay. We went to military camps, police headquarters, asked assistance to the Commission on Human Rights, International Committee of the Red Cross and so on. Still, Tatay remain missing.

My parents, being consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines for the peace process knew the risks of fighting for the principles they believed in. Having comrades who were killed, tortured, imprisoned, disappeared, Tatay knew he might end up like them. He had told me about these risks, trying to build up the courage in me. He was aware that someday I might lose him in the same way.

So, every year since that day I write Tatay a letter, hoping it would reach him wherever he is—in some dark detention cell perhaps?

But this year, my letter is addressed to you, Mr. President. For after seven years of disappearance, Tatay is most probably not alive anymore. My logical mind tells me this. But, my hopeful heart says otherwise.

Since day one, I held Gloria Arroyo responsible for the disappearance of my father, and many others. But today, I am holding your government accountable for the continuing disappearance of Tatay and nine other missing NDFP consultants, and hundreds more of desaparecidos.

Your government remains indifferent to victims like us who seek justice. The Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law may be enacted. Yet, none of the perpetrators were actually prosecuted. The notorious rights violator Ret. Gen. Jovito Palparan remains at-large. I doubt if I will ever get justice for my father under your regime.  You have even closed all doors for the continuation of the peace negotiations between the NDFP and your government, a venue for us relatives of missing NDFP consultants to address our concerns. This makes our quest for justice even dimmer.

Today, my only desire is to know what had happened to Tatay, to get his remains, and put him in a proper resting place. I know that even this is too much to ask of you, Mr. President because to surface my father and the other missing persons will reveal a lot of dirty secrets in the military institution. But, you owe us. I’m sure anyone who has humanity would understand the kind of pain we families of desaparecidos are going through.

Aya Santos
Daughter of Leo Velasco
February 19, 2014

Mothers of two missing UP students to Aquino: Where is Palparan? Are you hiding him?

Press Release
February 10, 2014

“Mahigit dalawang taon na mula nang ilabas ng korte ang warrant of arrest kay Palparan ngunit hindi pa rin nahuli o HINUHULI si Ret. Gen. Jovito Palparan. Ano ang kanilang nagawa? Kinakanlong si Palparan? (It has been more than two years now since the warrant of arrest was issued against Ret. Gen. Jovito Palparan. But up to this time, he has not been arrested or the government refuse to arrest him), Mrs. Linda Cadapan said. She, and Concepcion Empeno, issued an open letter questioning the efforts of the Noynoy government to put Palparan in jail.

Masakit sa aming puso na malaman na malaya pa rin ang mga nanakit at nagwala sa aming mga anak. Mas masakit pa na makita na wala man lang ginagawa ng pamahalaan hinggil dito,(It pains us that those who hurt our daughters, those responsible for their disappearance are still free. But it pains us more that this government has not done anything about this case),” Mrs. Empeno said.

The open letter came out in time for the hearing of the kidnapping and serious illegal detention case against Ret. Gen Jovito Palparan et al for the disappearance of the two missing University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.  The hearing has been going on, at a very slow pace, for two years now at Malolos Regional Trial Court, and without Palparan.

The two mothers hit the military’s delaying tactics in the court proceedings, “Lagi na lamang napopostponed ang pagdinig sa aming kaso dahil sa walang maipakitang ebidensiya ang mga akusadong militar. Sa pagpapatagal-tagal ng usad ng kaso sa korte ay baka magpatakas pa kina Lt. Anotado at Sgt. Osorio, (The hearings were always postponed because the military failed to present its witnesses. The delay might give Lt. Anotado and Sgt. Osorio the opportunity to escape,” Mrs. Empeño added.

Lt. Anotado and Sgt. Osorio are among Gen. Palparan’s co-accused. Both are under military custody instead of being jailed in a civilian detention facility; while M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario, another co-accused in the case remains free like Palparan.

“Sa darating na ika-26 ng Hunyo ay walong taon na ang paghahanap at pakikipaglaban para sa hustisya para sa aking anak na si Karen Empeño at kanyang kasamang si Sherlyn Cadapan. Sadya nga bang malupit ang tadhana sa mga taong walang impluwensiya sa lipunan o nagbibingi-bingihan at nagbubulag-bulagan lamang ang pamahalaan sa lumalalang sitwasyon ng paglabag sa karapatang pantao at kawalang katarungan sa ating bansa? (We’ve been searching for our daughters and fighting for justice almost eight years now. Is this our fate, we who are not influential in this country? Or the government simply chose to remain blind and deaf to the worsening human rights situation and injustice in this country?), lamented Mrs. Empeno.

Mrs. Cadapan reminded the public to be on the look-out for Palparan and help in his arrest, “Muli, ako ay nanawagan sa lahat na agarang tumulong sa pag-aresto o paghuli sa salarin na dumukot kina Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno, pumatay kay Manuel Merino at sa maraming mga aktibista at tagapagtanggol ng karapatan ng mamamayan (Again, I appeal to the public to help in the arrest or to effect arrest to the abductors of Karen and Sherlyn, killed Manuel Merino at many other activists and defenders of the people’s rights).” ###

Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen Empeño
Linda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn Cadapan
Lorena “Aya” Santos, Secretary General (09088121982, 024354146)

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