Message of ICAED President to Desaparecidos, Karapatan on Int'l Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances

We are sharing with you the solidarity message of Mary Aileen Bacalso, President of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED), to the activity of Desaparecidos and Karapatan today, August 30, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

Karapatan and Desaparecidos are members of the ICAED.

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Today, the 30th of August, declared by the UN as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, reminds us of all those who were forcibly disappeared by agents of the state that ironically pledged to protect citizens from human rights violations.   

Today, we pay tribute to all the desaparecidos of the world who, plucked from the bosom of their families, their communities and the greater society, are utterly deprived of their right to life and liberty. In a very special way, we remember Jonas Burgos, Karen Empeno, Shirley Cadapan, Carlos Tayag, Father Rudy Romano, Levi Ybanez, Leticia Ladlad, Nona Sta. Clara,  and several others.  Among hundreds who were enforced disappeared, they  dared to dream for a better Philippines and paid the price to make their dreams come true. Their names are etched on the Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, which is a glaring testimony of the atrocities that were committed during the dark years of Martial law and the succeeding administrations. They are among the innumerable desaparecidos of the world.  

The severity and global magnitude of the crime and the imperative to put this scourge to an end had urged the UN to officially recognize this day, which, prior to its official recognition in 2011, was already initiated by the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM) in 1981 and adapted by other organizations of families of the disappeared in many parts of the world. Such recognition by the UN of this significant day, which followed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, is a moral and political victory of organizations of families of the disappeared.

Four decades have passed since this day was first initiated by our Latin American sisters and brothers. Yet the global phenomenon of enforced disappearances sadly remains as relevant as it first surged in Latin America and here in the Philippines in the 70s.  

Since its establishment in 1980, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) has transmitted a total of 59,212 cases to 110 States. Cases under active consideration that have not yet been clarified, closed, or discontinued stand at 46,490 in a total from 95 States. The Committee on Enforced Disappearances has registered over 1,000 cases since the start of its functioning in 2012. Due to constraints in documentation owing to issues of security, victims’ lack of access to proper authorities and lack of resources on the part of local victims’ organizations, underreporting is a reality. The real figures of enforced disappearances are certainly much higher.

The Philippines has more than 600 outstanding cases of enforced disappearances as per 2021 report of the UNWGEID, which despite underreporting, is the highest in Southeast Asia. The outstanding cases from the Philippines pale in comparison with the actual number of cases from the Marcos dictatorship to its succeeding administrations of Corazon Aquino; Fidel Ramos; Joseph Estrada; Gloria Macapagal Arroyo; Benigno Aquino lll, Rodrigo Duterte and the present Marcos administration. 

After the May 9, 2022 national and local elections and a few weeks prior to the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law on September 21, 2022, the state of human rights of the country, which was already scrutinized by the international community during the Duterte administration will most likely worsen with the commission of new cases of enforced disappearances and persecution of human rights defenders, among other forms of violations under the new administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

As the theme of this event states: Fifty Years of Absence of Justice for Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Indeed, the last five decades are characterized by the utter lack of justice to the desaparecidos in the Philippines and victims of other human rights violations. Without justice, enforced disappearances are doomed to be repeated. Cases continue without let up as what recently happened to Elizabeth Magbandua and Alipio Juat who both disappeared on 3 May 2022 and, Elgene Mungcal and Ma. Elena Cortez Pampoza who were last seen on 3 July 2022.  

The ICAED is aware that families of the disappeared and human rights defenders in various parts of the world are being persecuted. Some of them are even made to disappear. Such situations prompted the then UN Inter-sessional Working Group to Draft a Legally-Binding Normative Instrument for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to include a particular paragraph in the 2006 Convention, under Ar. 24, Paragraph 7, to wit: “Each State Party shall guarantee the right to form and participate freely in organizations and associations concerned with attempting to establish the circumstances of enforced disappearances and the fate of disappeared persons, and to assist victims of enforced disappearance.”  

The existence of organizations like yours is very relevant in the continuing fight for truth and justice. This is especially true at this juncture of our country’s history where there is a proliferation of lies and where the truth of what happened in the past is distorted in the name of reconciliation and false unity. With our intention to make enforced disappearance disappear from the face of the earth, we look forward to that day when we can render ourselves irrelevant.

The ICAED, of which both Desaparecidos and Karapatan are members, campaign for universal ratification and implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. It is a treaty whose provisions stem from the true-to-life experience of families of the disappeared. It provides among others, the right to truth and the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance. With only 68 states party to this Convention, it is still far from universal ratification and implementation.

Despite the existence of Republic Act 10353 or the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012, whose provisions are in line with many of the provisions of the Convention, the Philippines is neither a signatory nor a party to the Convention. Obstacles to the Convention’s signature and ratification include the security sectors’ concern on heavy accountability of the State; sovereignty and independence of national courts vis-à-vis the mandate of the treaty’s monitoring body, which is the Convention on Enforced Disappearances and the heavy reporting burden needed in monitoring compliance. The Convention Against Disappearances is the only remaining core international human rights treaty that the Philippines has neither signed nor ratified.

As we call on all states to ratify and implement this Convention without further delay, I take this opportunity to invite everyone to join our webinar tonight at 9 pm, to discuss the Convention with other civil society actors and UN representatives and the urgency of defending the defenders of truth and justice. In so doing, we forge solidarity with one another in this common journey to attain a world without desaparecidos.

Finally, let us invoke the spiritual presence of all the desaparecidos of the world by saying:  DESAPARECIDOS, PRESENTES!