"Enforce Disappearance can victimize anyone if Arroyo regime's terrorism is not stopped."
It was half an hour past midnight of 17 November 2006 when eight armed men barged into the home of the Robiños family in Angeles City, Pampanga, about 80 km north of Manila.
The armed men searched the house, while shouting threats and hitting at the Robiños family members. One of the men kicked Romulos Robiños, a tricycle driver, dragged him out of the house and forced him inside a white vehicle.
A family friend said that he later saw Romulos inside the 69th Infantry Battalion (IB), Philippine Army headquarters in San Jose matulid, Mexico, Pampanga. In their search at the same headquarters, Romulos' wife said she saw one of Romulos's abductors inside the camp. But they did not find Romulos and had not seen him again despite countless days of searching. Romulos has been missing for more than 20 months.
The same scene was repeated in many other places. Among the most recent was on 28 April 2007, in a public place in Quezon City: Jonas Burgos was having his lunch at a restaurant inside the Ever Gotesco mall when four armed men accosted him. He was forcibly taken out of the mall, pushed inside a vehicle and whisked away. Jonas is an agriculturist and activist who had been helping farmers in Bulacan. The plate number of the vehicle used in Jonas's abduction was traced to an impounded vehicle inside the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) in Bulacan. Jonas has been missing for five months.
Romulos Robiños and Jonas Burgos are only two of 184 who are victims of enforced disappearance since Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power in 2001. They are the "desaparecidos," those who were abducted and kept hidden by suspected soldiers, police and their agents, allegedly in the name of counter-insurgency and the US and Philippine governments' "global war against terror."
Families of desaparecidos are victims, too. They are subjected to psychological torture as they worry from day to day about the fate of their loved ones. There is no closure for families of desaparecidos, only an endless search. The disappearance also affects their livelihood and put their lives at risk.
The tragedy of a loved one's disappearance is the same for any person -whether in the Philippines, Indonesia, Kosovo, Honduras, Turkey, Guatemala, Nigeria or Afghanistan.
In 2005 alone, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (WGEID) has received 50,000 cases from 90 countries. It is said that "anti-terrorist activities are being used by an increasing number of States as an excuse for not respecting human rights, especially protection of all persons from disappearance."
Very few States have created a specific criminal offense of enforced disappearance and only 61 countries have signed the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Arroyo government did not sign the convention despite vigorous calls by the UN.
On August 30, the world commemorates the International Day of the Disappeared. This day is an occasion to give tribute to victims of state terrorism all over the world, remember the disappeared, and hold the perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
The tragedy that befell the Robiños, Burgos and many other families was not fate but the desired result of the implementation of a policy of the Arroyo regime, as it is confronted with political and economic crisis, fearful of social change and afraid that it will be ousted by people power.
As long as Mrs. Arroyo and her minions like Norberto Gonzales, Eduardo Ermita, Raul Gonzales, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon and other implementors of Oplan Bantay Laya and the "War on Terror" are in power, the threat of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing and other violations of our human rights will remain dangling above our heads.
Our silence or indifference today will not keep us safe in the days to come, as anyone may become a victim of enforced disappearance unless the Arroyo regime is stopped. It is time for all of us to stand for justice with the rest of our countrymen and women and defy Arroyo's undeclared martial law.
Their search for the truth may expose them to even greater danger yet families and friends of disappeared persons continue to exhibit courage and commitment to collectively fight for justice. This serves as an inspiration to other victims of injustice and more citizens to understand state terrorism and enforced disappearance, and resist until no one is disappeared again.
Source: FHM Philippines Vol.3, No.3 (for Human Rights) July-Sept 2007 Issue