Thursday, June 04, 2009

Conspiracy and Disappearance

Disappearances have become so commonplace in the Philippines that they almost no longer merit front-page coverage. Even if they do, we have learned to blind ourselves to the reality. After all, who is that person to us? Just another statistic.

But precisely this apathy allows government agencies to blithely ignore the situation, or even complicitly abet the groups involved in the abductions. Too often, the reports are swept under layers of official denial and red tape. In the end, inefficiency and ignorance become de facto instruments of state terror.

For example, follow the case outlined in the narrative below, a letter from the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) addressed to Eduardo Ermita:

Dear Honorable Ermita,

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), after due consultation with our network regarding the abduction case of Melissa Roxas, Juanito Carabeo and Edward Handoc, strongly protests the dragging of the Coalition Against Involuntary Disappearances (CAID), particularly its member organizations the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND) and the Asian Federation Against Disappearances (AFAD), to cover-up your office's lack of due diligence.
The deliberate manipulation of frank and truthful answers by FIND and AFAD that both have no information on the said case and that KARAPATAN would be the more appropriate organization to ask betrays an ill-intent of government to pit human rights organizations against each other to serve
as a cover to its dismal performance in implementing its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.

The case of Melissa Roxas et al, was duly reported "191630H May 2009" by Michael M. Manuel, Barangay Captain of Brgy. Rizal and President of the Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) of the municipality of La Paz, Tarlac, to the La Paz Police Station. This report was submitted on May 20, 2009 by Police Chief Inspector Ronaldo R. Fernandez as a Memorandum for the Provincial Director, Tarlac, PPO, in Camp Macabulos, Tarlac City, as a "Spec. Report re Alleged Abduction". The three persons were said to have been taken "by heavily armed men on board with [sic] two motorcycles and dark blue van" in Sitio Bagong Sikat, Barangay Kapanikian, La Paz, Tarlac.

And yet on May 27, 2009, one week (emphasis ours) after Police Chief Inspector Fernandez submitted his report, the Presidential Human Rights Committee's (PHRC) statement in "Update on the Recent Alleged Abduction of Melissa Roxas, Juanito Carabeo and Edward Handoc as Reported by Karapatan and Bayan", among other things, stated:

1. "As a policy, we consider with serious doubts all allegations of human rights violations from groups like Karapatan..

It is unacceptable that your deep-seated prejudice has blinded your objectivity and paralyzed your will to act on your obligations. Such attitude has no place in an office dedicated to the promotion and defense of human rights.

The gravity of human rights violations are not diminished by the discriminatory perception one has of the victims of these violations. You had the time, personnel and resources to pursue the leads in the Fernandez report. In this particular case, you were not unable, rather you were
unwilling to act with due diligence. In fact, extraordinary due diligence should have been the more proper course of action.

2. "[t]here is strong possibility that Roxas and company were on an "immersion" in NPA-infested areas".

This is a blatant attempt at vilification of the victims to justify the abduction, and places the still missing persons at risk to become subjects of enforced disappearance, illegal detention, torture and extrajudicial execution. Such insinuation from the human rights office of the President erodes the due diligence to protect the rights of a victim of enforced
disappearance.

3. The PHRC has for the conclusion:

There are no reports of this case in the local government office or with local police authorities of the Municipality of La Paz, Tarlac, where the abduction allegedly took place, filed by anyone.." Thus, "Simply put, there is high probability that the alleged abduction of these persons has been fabricated."


Simpler even, the incident of enforced disappearance is true. However, the PHRC contrived to deny it.

PAHRA welcomes the surfacing of Ms. Roxas while it fears for the lives of Carabeo and Handoc. PHRC nonetheless is duty-bound to use its personnel, resources and influence - its office being under the Chief Executive who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) - to immediately obtain the safety of Carabeo and Handoc. Each day that they remain missing entrenches impunity more deeply.

PAHRA expects that PHRC publicly apologizes for the wrong done to the human rights community by circulating the position papers of the organizations that were wronged - AFAD, FIND and KARAPATAN - through the same circuit and networks used by the Philippine government for its May 27
press statement.

PAHRA demands that PHRC effectively coordinates all agencies under the Executive branch of government along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to break through impunity and obtain justice for Roxas et al. and to all victims of enforced
disappearances and other human rights violations.


Respectfully,

Max M. de Mesa
Chairperson


None so blind as they who refuse to see.

Of course, this is just one side of the story, and I cannot claim to know what really happened. But consider if it is the unembellished truth: do you realize how frustrating it is for relatives of the disappeared?

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