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“Desaparecidos” (the disappeared) is the term used to refer to the thousands of students, unionists, writers, social workers, teachers, and any suspected left-wing activists who disappeared during the so-called “Dirty War” in Argentina that lasted from 1976 to1983.

Many of the desaparecidos were government critics and were considered subversives by the military. Their being government critics was what led them to be taken in the middle of the night and brought to clandestine detention centers, where they were tortured and eventually killed

This barbaric practice leaves family members with so many unanswered questions for months or even years: Who abducted them? Where are they being detained? Are they being sexually abused? Who authorized their illegal arrest? Are they being tortured? Will we ever see them?

The disappearances of loved ones have left a deep scar among families who have not seen or found out where their loved ones are. Are they still alive? If they were killed, where were they buried?

Like Argentina, the Philippines has its own “Dirty War” that started during the martial rule of Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1972 and continued unabated during the Duterte administration.

Like the older Marcos, Duterte branded leftists as terrorists and unworthy of getting a fair trial. Thus, making them disappear was the only means necessary to eliminate them.

Who are these Filipino desaparecidos?

The first recorded desaparecido under the Marcos regime was Charlie del Rosario, educator and founder of the militant Kabataang Makabayan. He disappeared March 19, 1971 and never heard from again

Hermon Lagman, a labor lawyer, disappeared on May 11, 1977 and has never been found to this day.

Rizalina Ilagan, a student leader who was active in organizing and educating sectoral organizations, was abducted in July 1977 while attending a meeting. She remains missing.

Romeo Crismo, an active member of the Methodist Church, was only 24 years old when he was abducted by suspected members of the military on August 12, 1980.

Fr. Rudy Romano, a Redemptorist priest, was forcibly taken by armed men on July 11, 1985 in Cebu City. He left the seminary on his motorbike and was never seen again. On the same day, Rolan Levi Ybanez, a student activist also from Cebu, involuntarily vanished.

Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, students from the University of the Philippines, were abducted by suspected members of the military in Hagonoy, Bulacan while doing field work June of 2006. Retired General Jovito Palparan was convicted of kidnapping the two UP students. Their bodies have not yet been recovered.

Jonas Burgos, activist –farmer and son of press freedom crusader Jose Burgos, Jr., has not been seen nor heard of since he was abducted by what turned out to be members of the military at Ever Gotesco in Quezon City on April 28, 2007.

Joey Torres, a regional organizer of Bayan Muna-Central Luzon, was abducted by the military the night of September 22, 2018. His wife had been to so many military camps and their officers-in-charge denied having Joey in their custody.

Elena Tijamo, program coordinator for a non-government organization that provides paralegal and educational services to farmers in Cebu, was abducted in Cebu on June, 2020. A year later she was found dead in a hospital in Mandaluyong City, far from where she was abducted and under mysterious circumstances.

Women’s rights advocate Elgene Mungcal and Anakpawis organizer Maria Elena Pampoza are believed to have been taken by state agents in Moncada, Tarlac on July 3, 2022.

These are few of the thousand Filipino desaparecidos that, according to the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), have ballooned to 1,163 cases as of June, 2022.

What’s common among these desaparecidos is that they are all human rights and social justice advocates and victims of their own government’s lack of political will to “surface” them and punish those – mostly military personnel – who carried out their enforced disappearances.

According to the United Nations: “Endorsed disappearance has frequently been used as a strategy to spread terror within the society. The feeling of insecurity generated by this practice is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects their communities and society as a whole.”

Endorsed disappearance was used as a strategy during the martial law years. The same strategy was copied by the Duterte administration. The strategy ushered in a state-sponsored period of political dissenters and individuals aligned with the Left “disappearing.”

Unlike Marcos, Duterte’s “dirty war” also targeted drug dependent Filipinos.

The Involuntary Disappearance Act signed by President Benigno Aquino III in 2012 makes it a crime to carry out enforced disappearance punishable by life imprisonment. The law was supposed to herald the end of impunity for abusive military personnel and justice for the families of the desaparecidos. Yet, many cases of activists’ disappearances have never been investigated. It seems that their safety is not the government’s priority.

Meanwhile, the chilling effects of Marcos’ and Duterte’s “Dirty War” on the families of many desaparecidos linger on. The pain is excruciating.

With Bongbog Marcos now as the president, will he do everything within his power to give justice to all the victims of enforced disappearances started by his father and continued by his predecessor?

That is the urgent question that needs an immediate response.


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