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(Privilege Speech of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance, 30 August 2022)

Mr. Speaker, esteemed colleagues:

Yesterday we commemorated National Heroes Day to celebrate the great lives of Filipinos who courageously fought for justice, freedom, and democracy.

Today, we give tribute to a special class of heroes. Many without official recognition, although about 30 of them are honored by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation. Their names together with those of other patriots who sacrificed life and liberty to defeat tyranny and terminate atrocity during the dark years of martial law are inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance of the Foundation. My brother, human rights and labor lawyer, Hermon C. Lagman, is one of them.

Our honorees, also known as desaparecidos, are the victims of enforced disappearance – a State-sponsored multiple violation of human rights. Enforced or involuntary disappearance is a grave forcible deprivation of liberty perpetrated by public authorities or by private individuals or groups acting on the orders of or with the consent or acquiescence of the State or public authorities who refuse to disclose information about the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared person. Some of the victims surface alive, others are found dead or their skeletal remains exhumed, but most are unaccounted for or could not be located.

What crime did they commit to deserve such violent fate? Is it subversion to constructively dissent or criticize laws and policies inimical to the people’s rights and welfare? Is it anti-government to expose the venalities of public officials and their cronies? Is it a crime to advocate for progressive reforms?

The causes advocated by the disappeared from the Marcos Sr. regime to the Marcos Jr. dispensation are basically the same: food security, decent shelter, accessible and liberating education, job security and a living wage, price stability and prudent fiscal policy, sustainable human development, responsible and responsive governance, and respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Cognizant of the cruelty and inhumanity of enforced disappearance and to heighten awareness of the need to recognize and support the victims and their families, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 65/209 declaring 30 August as International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. Observance of the UN declared annual global event began in 2011. It should be pointed out, however, that the families of the disappeared and human rights defenders have marked 30 August as International Day of the Disappeared (IDD) years before the official UN declaration.

It should likewise be underscored that under both the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED) and the Philippine “Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012”, “victim” refers to the disappeared person and any individual who has suffered harm as a direct result of an enforced disappearance. Harm or injury takes various forms: physical, psychosocial, economic or political.

According to the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND): “No matter how firmly and proudly the families of the disappeared declare that when they gather to pay tribute to their disappeared loved ones, they celebrate sterling lives of courageous and self-sacrificing patriots and freedom fighters, they still have to confront the harsh reality of traumatic loss, post-traumatic stress, stigma, economic deprivation and/or political exclusion.”

Considering that enforced disappearances have been unabated, the Congress enacted RA 10353 to prevent, suppress, investigate, prosecute, and penalize enforced disappearance and provide victims appropriate reparation. The law is the first and only legislation of its kind in Asia. It has been hailed worldwide as a model statute.

The families of the disappeared steadfastly lobbied for the passage of this law for sixteen (16) long years. They and all victims of enforced disappearance under Philippine jurisdiction deserve no less than a faithful and comprehensive enforcement of the law. Paying lip service to the measure is an affront to the memory of the disappeared and the struggles of their families for truth and justice.

It is lamentable that nearly 10 years after it had taken effect, RA 10353 is hardly or not effectively implemented as enforced disappearances continue to be perpetrated against crusaders and dissenters. A law is only as good as its implementation. As principal author of this law, I call for an inquiry into the implementation of RA 10353; require pertinent reports from implementing government agencies and the Commission on Human Rights on how they are enforcing the law; look into the adequacy of funding support and the utilization of funds; and recommend remedial measures toward the full and strict implementation of the Act.  

With the compelling demands on the State to fulfill its wide-ranging obligations to the victims of enforced disappearance and allied human rights violations, the Chief of State cannot afford to temporize as a duty-bearer. Every Chief of State should keep in mind that administrations come and go but the State has the continuing duty to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.

In this light, it is now the responsibility of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to exercise his power and duty as Chief of State to cause the surfacing of the disappeared from the Marcos Sr.’s regime down to the succeeding administrations including the current administrations where three desaparecidos have been reported; disclose the truth behind each disappearance; bring the perpetrators to justice; fully mend the harm done to the victims; and put an end to the horrific crime of enforced disappearance.         

Today, let us commit not to add any new victim to the long list of desaparecidos and spare families the pain and anguish of truth untold, justice denied, and hope quashed as despair persists.

Mr. Speaker and esteemed colleagues, verily desaparecidos are martyrs and heroes!