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Rm. N-411, House of Representatives, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
+63 2 931 5497, +63 2 931 5001 local 7370

The Manila Times
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column

WHEN a relative or friend bids farewell to relocate to a foreign land, all know of his safe departure; when one falls gravely ill and dies, the family has the solace of burying the loved one in a burial site where the departed can be visited at any time. However, when one is forcibly disappeared, the family is left in torment not knowing where the desaparecido was secluded, how excruciatingly he or she was tortured, and whether the disappeared was summarily killed. Not even a makeshift cross marks the victim’s grave.

Decades after my younger brother Hermon, a labor and human rights lawyer during martial law, was forcibly disappeared, my mother Cecilia, founding Chairperson of the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), would still repeatedly tell us, “I always imagine Mon coming home.” But in a split second she would rage and burst out, “His military captors must have tortured him to death; they must have ordered him to dig his own grave.” This anxious vacillation between hope and despair is a shared sentiment among family members of the disappeared. Indeed, the painful absence of closure is not tempered by the passage of time.

Under Resolution No. 65/209 dated Dec. 21, 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared August 30 of every year as the “International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances” starting in 2011. This declaration is a recognition of the sacrifices and heroism of the victims of involuntary disappearances; a confirmation of the cruelty and inhumanity of enforced disappearances; a commitment to support the quest for elusive justice waged by the victims’ families; and a resolve to heighten worldwide awareness on the odiousness of this global crime and to end the impunity.

The UN also recognized that “30 August has been observed in many countries around the world” as the Day of the Disappeared. In the Philippines, this day has been long observed by the families of the disappeared and human rights defenders (HRDs) as the International Day of the Disappeared (IDD) years before the UN declaration.

It is propitious that this year, the last Monday of August, when we celebrate National Heroes’ Day, fell on August 30, the same day we commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. The disappeared are authentic heroes and martyrs. More than 20 desaparecidos are among those whose names are inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Memorial Center in Quezon City for their heroism and martyrdom.

My assassinated youngest brother, Ka Popoy, a courageous and steadfast leader of the workingman, honored the disappeared as “… some of the most brilliant, patriotic, dedicated and self-sacrificing citizens of our society, fighting for an ideal that aspires to liberate the millions upon millions of our people from poverty and oppression. Our people and our nation benefitted so much from them and could have benefitted so much more …” had their lives not been forfeited forcibly and violently by the State.

It is lamentable that while the Philippine government takes pride in having enacted Republic Act No. 10353 or the “Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012”, the first and only legislation of its kind in Asia, the law has been barely implemented. As principal author of this law, which criminalizes enforced disappearance as a separate offense, I filed House Resolution No. 2107 directing the House committees on justice and human rights to jointly conduct an inquiry into the implementation of this model statute, require pertinent reports from implementing agencies and the Commission on Human Rights, and recommend remedial measures for its forthwith and forthright enforcement.

The families of the disappeared, together with human rights organizations and HRDs, lobbied for this law’s enactment for 16 arduous years. Paying lip service to the law is an affront to the immortal memory of the disappeared whom we honor every August 30. It also demeans the incessant campaign for justice of their families.

The causes fought for by our desaparecidos from Marcos to Duterte are basically the same today: national sovereignty; peace based on justice; job security and a living wage; accessible quality and liberating education; price stability and prudent fiscal policy; sustainable human development; responsible and responsive governance; advancement of sectoral interests and welfare; and respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

For example, there are still the issues of illegal contractualization and the pernicious practice of “endo” where a temporary employee is denied regularization by the expedience of terminating without valid cause the worker’s tenure before it reaches six months. These employers’ schemes have been subverting workers’ job security and their right to self-organization.

Regularization of casual and contractual workers, who were mostly bottle washers, was the principal demand of the workers at the La Tondeña distillery when they staged the historic strike on Oct. 24, 1975, boldly defying the martial law strike ban. My brother Hermon, the first lawyer-victim of enforced disappearance in the country, was the strikers’ legal counsel. The strike was successful as many of the dismissed workers were reinstated and regularized.

In seeking workers’ support during the presidential campaign in 2016, candidate Duterte pledged to end unlawful contractualization and “endo” once elected president.  Toward the end of his presidency, these traditional problems continue to beleaguer workers because Duterte broke his promise. Worse, he vetoed the security of tenure bill, which proscribed illegal contractualization and ended the practice of “endo”, for contrived reasons catering to employers’ interests.

With a persistent past and a foreboding present, the Filipinos, for whom the desaparecidos heroically gave up their lives, must continue their struggle for justice and freedom, and realize their vision of a vibrant nation free from repression and oppression.


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