Between Hope and Despair: Search for Missing UP Students Goes On

It was the day before the first year anniversary of her daughter Sherlyn’s disappearance. Still, Erlinda Cadapan had not lost hope.

Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 21, July 1-7, 2007

It was the day before the first year anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance. Still, Erlinda Cadapan had not lost hope.

UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño and farmer Manuel Merino were abducted in Barangay San Miguel, Hagonoy, Bulacan June 26 last year by armed men believed to Army soldiers. Erlinda, Sherlyn’s mother, and Karen’s mother Connie sought the help of the human rights alliance Karapatan and they have been to various military and police camps in Bulacan. But their search yielded nothing as military and police officials denied any knowledge of the three’s whereabouts. The families of the UP students filed a writ of habeas corpus and were able to present a witness who testified that he saw the there in a military safehouse but still the three remain missing up to today.

But on this early morning of June 25, Erlinda was preparing again for another search, this time to Balanga, Bataan where Sherlyn was reportedly sighted. Accompanying Erlinda were Fr. Dionito Cabillas, IFI, of Karapatan, Desaparecidos spokesperson Ghay Portajada, Dr. Reggie Pamugas of the Health Alliance for Human Rights, Commission on Human Rights representative Dr. Jay Jimenez, some supporters and relatives of other desaparecidos, and this writer.

Karapatan’s sources reportedly saw Sherlyn being brought out of the Army camp in Balanga, Bataan December 2006 and being brought back in January 2007. Erlinda believes her daughter, who was two-months pregnant at the time of her abduction, probably gave birth between those days in December and January.

“Now it is not only my daughter who is being hostaged by the Army. Probably, my grandchild, too,” Erlinda quipped.


The first stop of the search team was at the office of Mayor Melanio Banzon Jr. of Balanga City, Bataan. High profile search cases usually began with courtesy calls to local government officials.

As it turned out, Mayor Banzon was out of town, but his assistant referred Erlinda to the local police who, in turn, accompanied the group to the Bataan Provincial Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in the city.

“You have to understand, the police protocol is different from the Army protocol,” explained Police Superintendent Mario Lopez Jr., the province’s deputy police director, after Erlinda asked if she could visit the camp of the 24th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army. “Even our officers here cannot just enter their camps. We have to get clearance from their higher ups.”

It was as if Lopez was complaining as he was trying to explain the situation to Erlinda. He had the rank equivalent to an Army colonel, but he still had to ask permission from the camp’s officer, a certain Lt. Garsuta.

Awkward but cordial

The group then proceeded to the 24th IB camp a few kilometers away from the PNP headquarters. Erlinda approached the soldiers guarding the camp. And to everyone’s surprise, the group was immediately ushered in. But we were led to a cottage in a remote corner of the camp, far from where the offices and troops – and probably detained activists – were.

The most senior officer present in the camp was Major Segundo Metran, who looked strangely familiar. He is executive officer (Ex-O) of the camp and second in command to Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, who was away at the time. Metran was surprisingly cordial, though obviously uneasy at the fact that he had just let in a group his organization had resolutely called as “communists” and therefore “the enemy”.

“I may get in hot water for this,” said Metran. Erlinda, too, was uncharacteristically apologetic for the trouble the group may have caused the officers, yet proceeded to ask in a rather circumspect way if the soldiers had chanced upon her daughter. Metran launched into a lecture on why Karapatan had been “banned” in Army camps for “looking for people that are missing, those civilians fighting the government.”

Metran then waxed eloquent about his vision for the country, where “those advocating democracy” and “those pushing for communism” can mingle freely and people can freely choose which side they prefer. “If you like communism, then go with the communists. If you like democracy, then go with those preferring democracy. It should be simple as that,” he said, without the tinge of irony.

“I am a rebel, too,” Metran explained, because he went up against a military hospital which refused to admit his son who was sick and near death. He was close to filing a case against the hospital, he said, which would mean giving up his military career because in the military they are not allowed to complain.

Apparently trying to get the sympathy of the group, he said he was a rebel but he cannot go beyond the “rule of law”. He had to go by the process. He said he was first and foremost, a uniformed man, whose allegiance lies in his organization “all the way up to the President.”

This writer pointedly asked Metran, “Can you, sir, categorically say that Sherlyn Cadapan is not in this camp nor was she ever here?” To which he once again circumspectly answered, “We cannot say whether she was here or not…because my companions (in the Army) may get in trouble.”

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