Reviving martial law fears

The writer says that the Marcos administration needs to speak up now against the abductions and push the agencies involved to comply with RA 10353, and more importantly, to surface the missing activists.


June 2, 2023

MANILA – Along with warrantless arrests, torture, and salvaging, the enforced disappearance of activists and opposition figures was one of the unspeakable horrors of the martial law years.

People had hoped that with democracy, elections, and the rule of law supposedly restored, such brutal means of suppressing dissent would be a relic of the past, with succeeding administrations having seen the fatal flaws of autocracy.

Alas, reports about missing rights activists Gene Roz de Jesus and Dexter Capuyan, said to have been abducted by military forces on April 28, have shattered such hope.

Less than a month later, rights group Karapatan said community organizers and University of the Philippines (UP) Manila alumna Patricia Cierva and Cedric Casaño were allegedly “captured alive” by members of the 501st Infantry Brigade in Gonzaga town in Cagayan on May 18.

De Jesus, 27, and Capuyan, 56, both studied at UP Baguio and became student leaders. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said De Jesus was working as an information and communication officer for the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, while Capuyan was an activist leader based in La Trinidad, Benguet.

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance expressed fears that De Jesus and Capuyan are in government custody since the police and the military had accused Capuyan of being a ranking officer of a New People’s Army command operating in the Ilocos and Cordillera regions, and placed a P1.85 million bounty on his head.

In separate statements released last week, UP campuses in Manila, Baguio, Cebu, and the Visayas expressed concern for the missing activists, and called on the government to ensure their safe return.

“We believe that our democracy, won through decades of activism and patriotism, can only be practiced to the fullest when the basic human rights of every Filipino is respected and protected, and these rights include individual safety, dignity, and freedom of speech,” the UP Manila statement said.

CHR has noted that “this latest case of ‘desaparecidos’ manifests the continuing vulnerability of activists to involuntary disappearance and its other possible implications, such as illegal detention, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Indeed, the ecumenical youth group Student Christian Movement of the Philippines has identified Cierva and Casaño as the 20th and 21st activists allegedly taken by state forces under the current administration, an alarming record for a sitting government barely a year old.

Even more distressing is the cavalier treatment that previous cases have merited from the state.

Recall that on April 28, 2007, farmer activist Jonas Burgos was forcefully taken by alleged military intelligence agents in what the Supreme Court in 2013 resolved was a case of enforced disappearance by members of the Philippine Army. With court documents pointing to Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr., three men, and a woman, as his abductors, the high court ordered the military to return Jonas to his family, an order that has been ignored. Worse, Jonas’ mother Edita lamented, “the perpetrators identified in open court were acquitted, while others were promoted and remained free.”

The government even had the temerity to file in 2019 a petition before the United Nations’ Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to delist 625 names of desaparecidos, an act that Edita Burgos said reeks of “insensitivity” to the plight of the victims’ families, and of the state’s desire to erase the memories of the disappeared.

The same nonchalant attitude among military officers persists in the case of De Jesus and Capuyan, whose families have inquired on their whereabouts at several military camps and police installations. No answers were forthcoming as the officers who faced the families declined to accomplish the forms they must fill out as required by Republic Act No. 10353, or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.

Despite assurances of assistance for the victims’ families from Police Col. Patrick Joseph Allan, deputy regional director for administration of the Cordillera police, no significant information or action has been given more than a month since the activists’ disappearance.

That Vice President Sara Duterte has been named co-vice chair of the government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has also raised more concerns. With this notorious body given more clout to Red-tag administration critics, military and police operatives seem to have been emboldened to arrest, detain, and violate the rights of outspoken individuals on mere suspicion that they subscribe to a foreign ideology.

Shouldn’t the Marcos administration speak up now against these abductions and push the agencies involved to comply with RA 10353, and more importantly, to surface the missing activists? That would certainly reassure us—and the world—that the Philippines has truly taken its place among other worthy democracies.

scroll to top