Greetings of peace, justice, and solidarity to all on this most important day.
Today is not only the International Day of the Disappeared, but our National Heroes Day as well. It so happens that this year, the last Monday of August which is when the Philippines celebrates National Heroes Day every year, falls on August 30, which is when the world observes yearly the International Day of the Disappeared.
This coincidence is most fitting considering that our disappeared loved ones, to borrow the words my younger brother Ka Popoy are revolutionary martyrs and heroes, who are “ … 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 … ”
It is not only us relatives and friends of our beloved disappeared who suffered and continue to suffer from their disappearance, but the Filipino people and our country as well. The benefits reaped by our people from the excellence, courage, and heroism of our desaparecidos are immeasurable and verily, they would have contributed considerably much more had they not been violently disappeared by the State.
That is why we all persevere and spare no effort towards the eradication of the phenomenon of enforced disappearance. As a legislator, I repeatedly filed before the House of Representatives a bill seeking to define and penalize enforced disappearance and give justice to the victims.
After our sixteen long years of ceaseless and collective advocacy both inside and outside Congress, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 or R.A. 10353 was finally enacted.
The victims – be they desaparecidos who surfaced alive or relatives of the disappeared who remain missing or have been found dead – played a major role in pushing for the bill’s enactment into law, as did various human rights organizations. Human rights defenders, victims or not, were steadfast in their advocacy over the years especially with public campaigns aimed at raising awareness on the issue of enforced disappearance.
At this point I would like to recognize some of the said organizations which are also the organizations that planned and arranged our gathering today: the Coalition Against Enforced Disappearance or CAED which was established by the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance or FIND and its co-members of the CAED Core Group – the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances or AFAD; Task Force Detainees of the Philippines; Amnesty International–Philippines; Medical Action Group; and Balay Rehabilitation Center. Along with other human rights organizations and advocates, we can all claim as our common victory the enactment of the first and only Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance law in all of Asia.
Lamentably, after almost nine years since its enactment, the law remains to be barely implemented. In fact, during an initiative of FIND and AFAD with the Commission on Human Rights aimed at assessing the implementation of R.A. 10353, only the Department of Social Welfare and Development was able to come up with a report among all the government agencies mandated to implement the law.
It is not surprising, therefore, that until now enforced disappearance remains unabated. According to FIND’s documentation, under the Duterte administration, there are 130 reported victims of enforced disappearance. This odious offense is now even being used as a weapon in the bloody war on drugs, and most likely the actual number of victims is much higher than 130 given that people are afraid to report cases due to fear of reprisal. This just proves that truly, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act remains virtually unimplemented.
To address this dilemma, last August 9, I filed House Resolution No. 2107, directing the Committees on Justice and Human Rights to jointly conduct an inquiry into the implementation of Republic Act No. 10353, require pertinent reports from implementing government agencies and the Commission on Human Rights, and recommend remedial measures towards the full and strict implementation of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act.
While we all know that it is imperative to memorialize our disappeared loved ones, we also know that we all share the hope that on occasions such as today, there would be no more additions to the list of people we remember, honor, and pay tribute to; and that the heroes who are still among us would remain with us.
Isang maalab na pagbati at mabuhay tayong lahat.