Rights group happy that missing couple surfaced

But doubts voluntariness of their statements; Asks that military be held accountable

Rights group express joy on the sudden surfacing of the couple Manuel Pajarito and Juliet Fernandez after seven months of disappearance but also harbor serious doubts on their fate and ask that the military be held accountable for their illegal arrests and arbitrary detention.

Fernandez, 32, was abducted by elements of the 52nd IB on May 11 in Calbiga town, Samar. She organized local fisherfolk to join the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya).

Fernandez was formerly a member of the peasant women's group Amihan. She also served as secretary-general of Gabriela Youth while she was a student. Families and relatives of Pajarito and Fernandez have been searching them for so long. They had sought assistance from human rights groups to search for them. On June 19-21, a fact-finding mission was
conducted by Karapatan and Gabriela to search for Juliet Fernandez.

The team visited the 801st Infantry Brigade but Major Armand Rico denied having custody of Fernandez and refused to issue a certification denying her custody. The team also went to the police stations of Calbiga and Pinabacdao but they did not find any police blotter on the abduction of Fernandez and Pajarito.

Last October 16, Gabriela launched a protest action in front of Camp Aguinaldo to demand that the military surface peasant leader Juliet Fernandez.

"We are surprised by the testimonies made by Fernandez and Pajarito that they were treated kindly. Their public presentation by the military has all the hallmarks of a staged or scripted play. Given the length of time they were in the complete control, custody and even mercy of the military – in absolute isolation from anybody else – and
given serious reports of torture, intimidation, and even rape, the voluntariness of their statements that are not only self-incriminatory but unbelievably wholly favorable to their captors remain dubious, if not contrived. The couple must be completely set free from the control of their captors so that they can tell their real story."

The mere deprivation of liberty and denial of their custody to their families is definitely a kind of treatment that they don't deserve considering the fact that on mere suspicion they were abducted. It adds insult to injury that persons who are disappeared will be forced -- under pain of further or future threat and harm to them and their families -- to absolve from any liability their captors who capitalize on the basic instinct for survival." Karapatan Secretary General Marie Hilao-Enriquez said.

"The Pajarito and Fernandez case clearly points that the military, specifically the 62nd IBPA under Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce is committing the dastardly act of disappearance, illegal arrest and detention contrary to what government functionaries, under a president who condones and tolerates them, has parroted that they are not involved in any of these crimes on hapless civilians." Enriquez added.