|Written by Patricia Evangelista|
|Saturday, 21 June 2008 19:00|
At two on a Monday morning, two University of the Philippines student activists were abducted from a farmhouse in Hagonoy, Bulacan by armed men in fatigues. One of them was pregnant. The other was blindfolded with the shirt she was wearing. A 14-year-old boy, son of a neighboring farmer, said that the women were screaming for help as they were dragged into a jeep. A farmer rushed out to help the women. The man was beaten with the butt of a gun, then shoved into the jeep as well.
These are their names: Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño, Manuel Merino.
The mothers of Sherlyn and Karen are common figures in rallies and courtrooms. They have written letters to a shopping list of government officials. They have followed every lead, knocked on ever door – few of which have opened – and they carry with them the towering pile of paperwork that constitutes the long legal fight for the lives of their daughters.
Four days ago, Erlinda Cadapan, Sherlyn's graying mother, made an appeal during an interview about media and human rights. She talked about how the government--police, military, executive--put their considerable weight behind the efforts to bring ABS-CBN senior reporter Ces Drilon and her team home after their abduction in Sulu.
"Si Miss Ces siyam na araw nawala. Ang anak ko, dalawang taon na [Miss Ces was gone for nine days; my child, two years]."
Sherlyn, Karen and Manuel were abducted on June 26, almost two years to this date.
Erlinda is glad that Ces, Jimmy and Angelo are safe. She wants her daughter home too. Everyone, from President Macapagal-Arroyo to Police Director General Avelino Razon to local government units, looked for Ces. Today, Erlinda and a very few are still looking for her daughter.
And perhaps this is what is striking after the terrible ordeal that the country watched on television. When Ces was kidnapped, media organizations voluntarily imposed a blackout on their people at the request of ABS-CBN. As several media practitioners have reasoned, it is good that the media rallied behind their colleagues. Perhaps the same courtesy can be extended to many others, not because they are journalists, or celebrities, but because they are people, with anxious mothers and sobbing children.
Remember their names: Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño, Manuel Merino. According to Col. Lina Sarmiento, chief of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office, she is satisfied by the way the Philippine National Police has been handling cases of disappearances and abductions. In 2006, one month after the two women were abducted, the Hagonoy PNP refused to admit anyone was kidnapped, and insisted that a blotter must be made before an investigation could occur. Told that a blotter existed, PO3 Ponciano dela Cruz of Hagonoy said that no family member had approached them. Told that Sherlyn's sister-in-law had personally presented herself to the PNP, he claimed that more family members were needed. Told that witnesses had been found, he complained that he hadn't been told.
Finally, asked what he had done to investigate the abduction, he said he was pursuing all leads. Which included – a full month after the disappearance – verifying if indeed Karen and Sherlyn were students.
Military respondents were repeatedly warned of contempt charges for failing to appear in court. These same men and women continued on in the witness stand, and proceeded to contradict each other's stories without any attempt at logic or rationality.
Many developments have occurred since 2006. A witness has come forward to say he was present at a military camp with the women. Another testified that he was interrogated at a military detachment with Merino.
It has been two years, and there are many more names.
There is 3-year-old Sugar, who wears a Barney T-shirt and pink sneakers, who strokes the photocopied picture of her father and makes demands for him to come home. Her grandfather and father, Gabriel and Rogelio Calubad were abducted on June 17, 2006 in Calauag, Quezon. There is Edita Burgos, who takes every opportunity to speak about her son Jonas, who was abducted in Ever Gotesco mall in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City over a year ago. There is 25-year-old pastor Rodel Canja abducted this May in Tanay, Rizal. Honorio Ayroso, Felicidad Catalbas, Danilo Macapagal, Alex Beloy, Celina Palmas, Cesar Batralo. There are many, many more.
The pursuit of justice, after all, is not in the interest of any one institution, or of any one political orientation. It is in the interest of being a person. And in the same manner we heave a collective sigh of relief at the homecoming of one of the most courageous women in Philippine media, and of the men whose dedication to duty led them to the slippery edge of execution, let us remember the other lives that have been stolen, and the other families who repeat the names of daughters and fathers and sons, in the hope that they will not be forgotten.
[Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer. Read the original article here.]