By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Everyday is a struggle for Merceditas De Jesus and her husband since their son Gene Roz Jamil De Jesus or Bazoo, went missing on April 28.
“I cannot sleep and work properly. I asked my employer if she could terminate my contract. I don’t want to resign so that I can get my disoccupation benefits,” De Jesus told Bulatlat in an online interview. She said that with the disappearance of Bazoo, it will be impossible to go back to their normal lives.
De Jesus is only one of the many mothers whose loved ones involuntarily disappeared because of their advocacy or involvement in the mass movement – someone who is continuously being vilified or labeled as “enemies of the state” by different administrations since Ferdinand Marcos Sr. where thousands of activists fighting the dictatorship were disappeared.
Under the administration of his son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., human rights groups have observed an alarming trend in the rapid rise in the number of involuntary disappearances.
Based on the data of Karapatan, as of June 30, eight victims of enforced disappearance were recorded in the first 10 months of Marcos Jr. administration. This number, Karapatan said, constitutes 40 percent of the 20 victims documented cases under President Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year term.
This, despite the enactment of the Republic Act 10353 or the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012, a law criminalizing enforced disappearances. Under the law, those who will be proven to be directly involved in the crime of enforced disappearance as well as superior officers who order or are otherwise implicated in a disappearance, will be punished with life imprisonment.
Still, a decade later, the law has yet to give justice to the relatives of victims of enforced disappearances as they continue to decry lack of accountability.
De Jesus learned of her son’s disappearance on April 29 when her eldest daughter, Ida called them to say that Bazoo is missing. De Jesus and her husband are both overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Bologna, Italy.
“On the night of April 28, we received a message from him in our family chat group, he said good evening and I responded. I even waited thinking that he would call because we always updated each other. But he did not respond anymore,” De Jesus said.
Bazoo went missing with Dexter Capuyan, a Bontoc-Ibaloi-Kankanaey native, former Cordillera-based activist and is being alleged as a leader of the New People’s Army.
Her daughter Ida sought Karapatan out for assistance in helping them locate Bazoo. On May 2, Ida and the search team went to Barangay Dolores Central in Taytay, Rizal where the two were last seen, to file a blotter. The team also went to the Taytay Police Station to report the incident. However, De Jesus said no one among the police officers signed the disappearance form as mandated by the RA 10353. De Jesus also said that the police officers also refused to allow her daughter to file a missing person report, saying that it should be filed in the place where the missing person resides.
The search team also went to the Rizal Provincial Jail to search for Bazoo and Capuyan but to no avail. The said office signed a certification that the two are not in their custody.
The Taytay Municipal Police Station and Rizal Provincial Officer also declined to sign the forms provided by the search team. The officers also refused to make a police blotter, saying that the blotter filed in barangay was already sufficient.
The relatives and colleagues of the two also went to Camp Crame and presented the form, but the office refused to sign the said forms. Instead, a police blotter report on Bazoo and Capuyan’s disappearance was made at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group National Office. The team also went to Camp Aguinaldo to present the form. The camp’s military intelligence head, LTC Jake Montes, certified that, “to the best of his knowledge, no missing people were under the camp’s custody.”
The team also went to National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), the Task Group Baguio in Camp Henry T. Allen in Baguio City, where they presented the forms but it was also not signed by the said offices.
On May 8, De Jesus travelled from Italy to join the search for her son and Capuyan. They went to different offices, including the Supreme Court, and sent letters asking for assistance to help find their relatives They also sought assistance from the Commission on Human Rights.
In Northern Luzon Command headquarters in Tarlac City, De Jesus said officers were adamant not to receive their letters as well as signing the form. They are giving many reasons for not receiving the letter, said De Jesus.
“They are saying that the letter should be addressed to their head, and that we should come back again after two to three weeks for the response. But this is a matter of life and death,” De Jesus told Bulatlat.
The same was the experience of Azase Galang, daughter of missing activist, Ma. Elena Pampoza who went missing together with Elgene Mungcal on July 3, 2023 in Moncada, Tarlac.
She said that most of the headquarters they visited to look for the two refused to certify that her mother and Mungal were not in their custody. “From July to December we were looking for them even outside Central Luzon. There are 11 military camps and facilities that signed the form. But still many of them don’t want to sign the form. They would give us runarounds like their head is not at the office and the like,” Galang told Bulatlat in an online interview.
Initially, she said that the Moncada police seem to make an effort to locate her mother and Mungcal. But later on, they noticed that the police were merely profiling their family. She also lamented that the police are asking them for updates instead of them doing their job to investigate.
“There’s no support or anything that would help us to locate my mother and her companion. Instead of helping us, they are avoiding the families,” she added.
In December last year, the Supreme Court granted Galang’s petition for writ of amparo and the temporary protection order. But she said, there is still no progress or update to the whereabouts of her mother and Mungcal. The police visit to her grandmother’s house also did not stop, she said, despite the temporary protection order granted by the high court.
The tailing and texting also did not cease. “They are saying that they want to help us in finding my mother but the questions they ask are just about the whereabouts of my brother,” she said. At one point, her mother told the policemen looking for her and her brother to never come back again because she has no information about the whereabouts of Galang and her siblings.
“We didn’t return to my grandmother’s village for safety. But the police kept visiting her and asking about us. One time she was rushed to the hospital because her blood pressure shot up. She told the policemen not to come back and that they will surely blame the police if anything happened to us and our family,” Galang said.
Galang said that it is saddening, that the law enforcers, who ideally should be protecting civilians, are the ones violating ordinary people’s rights.
“Who else are we going to turn to in this kind of situation?” she said.
“The law has become futile if the law enforcers are the ones who do not implement it,” De Jesus said.
Utter disregard of the law
Human rights lawyer Ephraim Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said that these experiences of the families show the state forces’ utter disregard of the law intended to facilitate the search for those who are missing.
“The problem really is how the state forces would implement laws such as the Anti-Disappearance law and Anti-Torture law,” Cortez told Bulatlat.
The Anti-Disappearance Law for one requires any person, not being a principal, accomplice or accessory, who has information of a case of involuntary disappearance or who shall learn of such information or that a person is a victim of involuntary disappearance, shall immediately report in writing the circumstances and whereabouts of the victim to any office, detachment or division of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Department of National Defense (DND), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the City or Provincial Prosecutor, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) or any human rights organization as well as the victim’s family, relative, or lawyer.
The law also requires public officers to give inquiring citizens full information about people under their custody. The law also provides free access to the updated register of detained or confined people to those who have a legitimate interest in the data.
The law also states that any person deprived of liberty has an absolute right to access any form of communication available to inform their family, relative, friend, lawyer or any human rights organization on his or her whereabouts and condition.
But the experiences of De Jesus and Galang are the exact opposite.
Meanwhile, there are activists who were reported missing but were suddenly found at military camps such in the case of Arnulfo “Ompong” Aumentado and Mary Joyce Lizada, both indigenous people’s rights advocates who went missing on April 25. They are still being detained at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal. They were denied their right to be visited by their families and lawyers which Cortez said these are also forms of torture.
“It’s basically a form of solitary confinement. It is the right of every person deprived of liberty to be visited by relatives, medical doctors, priests and lawyers, it’s mandated by law. But the fact that they are not doing it, they are violating the law,” he said.
Gaining access to those who are detained in military camps has always been difficult even in the past administrations – from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to Duterte. But lately, he said, officers of the military camp are blatant in depriving the detainees of their right to be accessed by lawyers.
“In the case of Morong 43, the soldiers did not immediately grant us access to them. But eventually we were able to visit them inside the camp. Lately, it seems to have become a regular practice and it violates the prisoners’ right to legal representation,” he said.
“It has become brazen because it is part of the policy, it’s part of their implementation of counterinsurgency policy which they claim to neutralize insurgents, but in reality, it is directed to activists, to the dissenters,” he said.
‘No improvement on human rights’
For lawyers, Cortez said they see no improvement in the human rights situation in the Philippines under the Marcos Jr. administration.
“The administration may have changed but the structure being used for repression is still there,” Cortez said.
He said that at present, the government is using anti-money laundering laws, anti-terrorism financing laws, Anti-Terrorism Act and other counterinsurgency policies such as the Executive Order No. 70 which institutionalize the whole-of-nation-approach and established the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict as well as EO 33.
In fact, CIVICUS Monitor has recently rated the state of civic space in the Philippines as repressed, meaning the civic space is significantly restrained. This is from the obstructed rating during the administration of Duterte.
Meanwhile, Desaparecidos, a human rights organization dedicated to seeking justice for victims of enforced disappearances, demands that the government take immediate action to bring those responsible to justice and provide closure to the families of the victims.
They also urged the government to strengthen its commitment to preventing enforced disappearances in the country.
“This includes ratifying and implementing international human rights instruments such as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The government must also ensure the protection of human rights defenders, activists, and individuals advocating for justice and accountability,” the group said in a statement.
For Galang and De Jesus, both said that they will continue finding their loved ones.
“We are here and we will continue with our quest for justice not only for our son, Bazoo but for all families whose loved ones are missing,” De Jesus said. She is planning on coming back to the Philippines to actively participate in the ongoing hearing on Bazoo and Capuyan’s petition for writ of habeas corpus at the Court of Appeals.
Human rights group Karapatan said that amid gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, “Marcos Jr. remains conspicuously silent on human rights issues and cases in a devious attempt to distance himself from the sordidness of his own human rights record.”
“His silence however does not save him from accountability for the grave results of his evil policies,” they said.
“We hold Ferdinand Marcos Jr. accountable for the numerous human rights violations suffered by the Filipino people under his watch, and we will not relent in our demand for justice and accountability,” Karapatan said. (RVO)