Thursday, September 16, 2004

1,347 unfound

They went missing and have not been found until today. They are the 1,347 victims of ``enforced disappearance’’ from 1971 to 2003. They are the so-called desaparecidos (disappeared) who walked into the darkness and were never seen again.

Sept. 21 is upon us again. It will rake up painful memories and open wide the wounds that never quite heal. It is a time to pause to see where we have healed and where still we bleed. Justice still eludes the countless who had suffered while those who caused the suffering walk with their heads high.

Thirty two years ago on Sept. 21, 1972, when Pres. Marcos declared martial law, many people feared for their lives and their loved ones. But that day, they could not have imagined the greater horror, the sorrow, the darkness that would later visit countless lives.

Although some families already had a foretaste of what was to come the year before (the first case of disappearance happened in 1971) they had no inkling of what still lay ahead. The Reign of Terror would later cut a wide bloody swath across the land and for 14 years the dictatorship would hold the nation in its tight grip.

Next week, on Sept. 22, at 10 a.m., the ``Bantayog ng mga Desaparecido’’ will be unveiled at the Redemptorist Church grounds in Baclaran. The Bantayog includes the refurbished Flame of Courage Monument created by artist Lito Mondejar in 1994 and the new 21 granite slabs on which the names of the 1,347 victims are etched. The Bantayog was designed by painter-sculptor Bessie Rifareal who began work in 2003.

This place is dedicated to those who offered their lives for the country and whose ideals remain an inspiration for many who work for a just and free society. It is also dedicated to the families who carry the burden of loss and continue to bravely face the future while continuing to pick up the shards of their lives.

The Flame of Courage Monument depicts the figure of a woman holding a lighted torch. She is in search of someone. With her is a little child holding a picture of the one they are looking for. The life-size monument symbolizes struggle and undying hope.

Come, pray and remember in this hallowed place. Come, pray and make a vow never to let unbridled tyranny destroy lives again.

Behind this endeavor is Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND). FIND has been behind projects helping the families in their search for the missing and for justice as well.

FIND continues to document cases of disappearances. Yes, abductions and summary killings continue to this day. The latest case happened in 2003. FIND documents ``state perpetuated’’ cases only. Cases that were, at first, thought to be the handiwork of the military and later proven to have been part of the communist ``purge’’ or wrongful execution of communist militants by their own comrades have been removed from the list. A FIND staffer however said that FIND continues to assist the families of victims of these executions because they have become part of the FIND family. They now have their own memorial at the University of the Philippines’ sunken garden.

Just a little footnote. I’ve always had a problem with what the acronym FIND stands for. FIND stands for Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance. How can one be a victim of one’s own disappearance, be it voluntary or involuntary? Disappearance is the result, not the cause. Like there is no such thing as a victim of death. One is a victim of abduction, torture, oppression, etc. but not of disappearance or death.

``Families of the disappeared victims of tyranny’’ (or whatever) is more precise although it would not fit the four-letter acronym. Here the word disappeared is a noun (not a verb) and is the English translation of the Spanish desaparecido or the missing. Desaparecido was commonly used in Latin America where military dictators ruled with impunity.

Sorry ha, but that’s been bothering me for years. What’s in a name? A lot.

One of the known victims of military abduction is Father Rudy Romano, a Redemptorist priest who disappeared in 1985 in Cebu where he was assigned at that time. The Redemptorists’ hospitality to the memorial for the disappeared partly stems from the fact that one of their own has been missing for almost 20 years. The search for Fr. Romano was long and arduous. It sparked international interest and led to the highest court of the land. And just like in any search, it had its share of rumors, bum steers, hoaxes and hearsay. The details are in the biography ``Romano of the Philippines’’ written by Lilette Chan-Santos.

At a small media dinner I attended some years ago, a military general said he believed Fr. Romano was abducted ``by the PC’’.

Johannes Barroso was arrested in 1975 together with Eugenio Flores and Nenita Luneta in Cabanatuan City by members of the 5th Constabulary Security Unit of the Philippines Constabulary and brought to the PC headquarters in the city. Barroso would later disappear without a trace. The military denied having arrested him.

And there is 20-year-old UP-Los Banos student Gerardo Faustino who was arrested in Makati by a military intelligence group in 1977. There is Prudencio Bati-on of Sta. Cruz, Manila who disappeared on March 1, 1999. By the way, the Inquirer editor in chief’s first cousin, Leticia Pascual, is also among the disappeared.

The last line of the dedication at the Bantayog reads: ``Para sa ating lahat na nagpapatuloy ng laban na sinimulan ng mga desaparecido para sa katarungan, kalayaan at pagkakapantay-pantay.#