[Reflection] The struggle of memory against forgetting

Promotional Poster of Beinte Singko. Image from http://www.tfdp.net.

By Darwin Mendiola

Speech delivered during the Opening Ceremony of Beinte Singko at UP Diliman

Remembering the Past is looking at the future

My organization, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances is taking part in this memory project for the week-long celebration of the International Human Rights Day for one good reason. We believe a society that has experienced a traumatic politcal situation must preserve and come to terms with its past in order to rekindle and rebuild a hope for the future. To borrow the words of Milan Kundera that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. This, what I believe, is the main objective of Beinte Singko: The Festival of Memories, Creation of New Stories. This is especially true to victims of enforced disappearance.

“Hindi na po bago sa atin ang usaping ito. Marami na pong taga-UP ang naging biktima ng sapilitang pagkawala. Sino po ang makakalimot kina Atty. Hermon Lagman, Jessica Sales,  Rizalina Ilagan, Geraldo Faustino at marami pa na sapilitang iwinala sa ilalim ng Martial Law o nina Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan at Karen Empeno na iwinala sa ilalim ng administrasyon ni Gng. Arroyo. Isa po itong karumaldumal na paglabag sa karapatang pantao.”

Enforced disappearance is one of the cruelest forms if not the cruelest violation of human rights that humanity has ever experienced. It is a multiple and continuous violation of the basic human rights not only of the direct victims but also of their families as well as the larger society.

It inflicts enduring and untold sufferings to the victims as they are removed from the protection of the law and denied access to legal safeguards. They are often tortured and in constant fear for their lives and haplessly put at the mercy of their captors. Sometimes, they are murdered without leaving any shred of evidence.

It also brings ill-effects to the victims’ families for not knowing the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. They are placed in limbo between hope and despair, praying and waiting, pleading and demanding for answer that may never come. They are not only deprived of the right to mourn but also to find closure.

Enforced disappearance has a particular devastating impact on women and children. For women who are usually left behind to tend the families, they often bear the brunt of the serious economic hardships. They are dispossessed of legal status to obtain pensions or other means of support because of the absence of death certificate. When women are victims of disappearance themselves, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence. The children of the disappeared are also victims. The disappearance of a child or the loss of a parent as a consequence of enforced disappearance, are serious violations of child’s rights.

It also causes fear and terror among the people belonging to the same community.

Enforced disappearance was first introduced by the Nazis during the Second World War under the Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) Decree where hundreds of thousands of people were made to disappear throughout Nazi Germany’s occupied territories. It spread around the world and has become one of the wicked features of military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes particularly in the Latin America.

Enforced disappearance continues to happen globally.

“Patuloy po itong nangyayari sanmang sulok ng mundo.”

Many governments still employed this atrocious practice as a tool of state repression and political witch hunt. It is a major human rights concern of 83 countries around world based on the 2010 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the first thematic UN body created in 1982 to monitor the incidences of enforced disappearances worldwide. Many of these cases occur in 27 countries of Asia, a continent that has the highest number of cases submitted to the UNWGEID in recent years. Unfortunately, Asia lacks a strong regional mechanism for redress and no domestic laws penalizing disappearance as a separate and autonomous criminal offense. This condition perpetuates a climate of impunity that allows perpetrators to escape accountability.

The very existence of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), a regional federation of organizations of the families of the disappeared and human rights advocates working directly on the issue of enforced disappearance in Asia, refutes the claim of many states that enforced disappearance is already a thing of the past and merely a Latin American experience.

 A Regional Response in the Struggle against Impunity

In Asia, enforced disappearances remain widespread and unabated.  The narrowing democratic spaces in many Asian countries have consequently resulted to the alarming increase of human rights violations in the region including enforced disappearance.

While many governments in Asia have started to democratize and recognize human rights as an important cornerstone of governance, there is still a wide disjoint between the state policies and day-to-day practices. It is the state’s overemphasis on security and stability continues that creates a huge roadblock in the development of human rights. The war on terror policy is one of the most convenient excuses for the brazen disregard human dignity and freedom.

What makes the situation all the more difficult is the absence of regional as well as national human rights mechanisms which are necessary recourses for redress. The struggle of the organizations of families and human rights organizations in their respective countries in the fight for accountability and the end to impunity has given birth to Asia-wide federation as a cogent response to the phenomenon of disappearances in the region.

Our efforts together with the similar formations in other continents have made possible the recognition of the importance and urgency to forge a global response through the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly and entered into force on 23 December 2010. To date, this international human rights instrument has 90 signatories and 30 States parties. However, only 13 of these States Parties have recognized the competences of the Committee.

Thus AFAD has continuously campaigned for the signatures and ratifications of the Convention and for its eventual universal application.

The domestic road towards the universal protection against Enforced Disappearance

In the Philippines, one glaring problem for its continuing commission is the complete lack of accountability. Not only that cases of enforced or involuntary disappearance are by their very nature difficult to investigate and prosecute, it persisted and has been carried out with total impunity. The perpetrators of this heinous offense have absolute impunity because there is no physical evidence extant to pin the blame on any person. This proves that the existing legal measures that provide safeguard for lives and liberties are inadequate and insufficient to combat impunity.

For almost two decades, the organization of families of the disappeared and other human rights groups have steadfastly lobbied Congress to enact a law defining and penalizing enforced or involuntary disappearance.  It was filed and re-filed in Philippine Congress but lamentably was not acted on by previous Congresses.

The Philippine bill against enforced disappearance is one of the two existing bills in Asia. The other one is in Nepal. If enacted into law by the Philippien government, it will be the first anti-enforced disappearance law in region and can set a good example to other Asian governments.

However, it has just recently that it sees the light of day with approval of the Senate on its third and last reading the Senate Bill 2817 on July 26 and the adoption of the Joint Committees of Human Rights and Justice of the approved House Bill 5886 on August 17 as a substitute bill for plenary deliberations.

This is indeed a welcome development. But it also give us more reasons to continue our work as we continuously urge Asian governments to immediately sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearance without reservation and to enact a domestic legislation without further delay.

There are at least 10 reasons why government should do so:

  1. Both measures define the act enforced or involuntary disappearance. It limits commission of forced disappearance to deprivation of liberty for political reasons by agents of the State or by private persons or group of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State. It is the recognition that the state is duty bound and has the primary obligation to promote, protect and fulfill the rights of its people;
  1. Both consider enforced disappearance as a continuing offense as long as the perpetrators continue to conceal the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person and such circumstances have not been determined with certainty. This means that an act of enforced disappearance committed in the past continue to occur until the fate and whereabouts of the victim is verified and that that the prosecution of persons responsible for the enforced disappearance shall not prescribe unless the victim surfaces alive, in which case the prescriptive period (in this case 25 years) shall start to run from the date of his or her reappearance;
  1. Both are consistent with the principle of command responsibility. It holds the immediate hold any person involved in an enforced disappearance criminally responsible, as well as their superiors who knew or should have known what they were doing, and should have prevented, investigated and punished the subordinates for wrongdoing. The disputable presumption of knowledge by the superior of the acts of the subordinate and to eliminate the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties in prosecution of cases involving enforced disappearance;
  1. Both guarantee the non-derogability of rights against enforced disappearance. This means that the right of any person not to be subjected to enforced disappearance and no exceptional circumstances, not even a state of war, may be invoked as justification;
  1. Both clearly differentiate between enforced disappearance committed as part of a massive or systematic practice and that of isolated and sporadic cases committed outside of the context of armed conflict. Thus it characterizes enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity only when the actions involved are committed within the framework of a massive or systematic practice and otherwise considered as an international crime;
  1. Both provide a number of protection and preventive measures such as to require official Up-to-date register of all persons detained or confined; to visit to or inspection of all places of detention by the National Human Rights Institution; to institute stringent safeguards for the protection of people deprived of their liberty; declare unlawful an order from a superior officer or a public authority causing the commission of enforced disappearance and therefore such order cannot be invoked as a justifying circumstance; prevent the accused from influencing the investigation and prosecution of the cases, the bill provides for his/her preventive suspension upon the filing of the information or complaint in the proper court; and the guarantee of non-refouler;
  1. Both recognize the rights of victims as well as the duties of the state to investigate, to prevent and to hold the perpetrators accountable. Both provide specific rights to the victims such as the right of a person under detention; free access to information by families, lawyers or human rights organizations at most expedient means without restrictions or court order; and rights to receive indemnification, medical care and rehabilitation. It also bestows duties to the state such as to certify in writing on the results of Inquiry into the reported disappeared person’s whereabouts; duty of inquest/ investigating public officer or any judicial or quasi judicial employee; provide appropriate medical care and rehabilitation; and to render monetary compensation to the victims and ensure restitution of their honor and reputation. The Philippine government is likewise duty bound to comply with the obligations arising from treaty bodies in which Philippines is a state-party;
  1. Both requires the state to train  law enforcement personnel on the content of the law and the absolute prohibition to commit enforced disappearance;
  1. Both exclude any investigation, trial, decision for any other legal or administrative process before the appropriate international court or agencies under applicable international human rights and humanitarian law from double jeopardy rule; and
  1. Both have an Oversight Committee to ensure compliance with the provision of the law and/ or the treaty.

Establishing these legal measures and mechanisms both at the international and national level is just one big step towards ending impunity for human rights violations. This step may not bring back to life those who are made to disappear but these will certainly help prevent others from suffering the same fate, sparing their families from the perpetual agonies of the uncertainty and freeing the society from fear. Thus, the struggle against forgetting and the struggle against impunity must go on…

[In the Web] Palparan’s flee attempt indicates guilt – mothers of 2 missing UP students

Mrs. Concepcion Empeño (left) and Mrs. Erlinda Cadapan, mothers of the two missing UP students, listen intently at the proceedings during the third hearing on the criminal charges they filed against Palparan and other military officials.(Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)


“He [Palparan] should be imprisoned immediately, along with GMA, Abalos, all of them who are shameless. They all should spend Christmas in jail.” – Mrs. Concepcion Empeño



MANILA – The mothers of the two missing students of the University of the Philippines (UP) are enraged over the attempt of retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. to leave the country this morning.

Exactly four days ago, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a resolution implicating Palparan, then commanding officer of the 7th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and three of his men into the disappearance of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño.

According to reports, Palparan tried to go to Singapore around 7:30 a.m. on board a Seair flight but was prevented by immigration officials.

“Why would he escape? This only proves all the more that he is guilty of many crimes,” Mrs. Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen, told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview.

Mrs. Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, deemed the same. “He attempted to flee because he knows he has committed crimes against the people. He is afraid to be put behind bars for he knows that we have a strong case against him,” Mrs. Cadapan said in a phone interview.

In a 36-page resolution, the DOJ panel of prosecutors investigating the incident found “probable cause” to charge Palparan, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, Master Sergeant Rizal Hilario, and Staff Sergeant Edgardo Osorio with two counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in connection with the abduction of the two UP students on June 26, 2006.


Please read full article at http://bulatlat.com/main/2011/12/19/palparan%E2%80%99s-flee-attempt-indicates-guilt-%E2%80%93-mothers-of-2-missing-up-students/

[Video] PNoy Cases: The 4th installment of the PCIJ Media Killings Series – youtube


IN THE past year, at least six Philippine journalists have been murdered by gunmen.

This much is clear: despite the avowed priority given by the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III to solving the murders of media and ridding the country of the culture of impunity, the killings of journalists in the country continue unabated.

In the second-to-the-last part of the Media Killings Series of documentaries by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the PCIJ looks at some of the reasons why the murders continue unabated. Many thought that the entry of a new administration that espouses strong democratic and liberal beliefs would herald a dramatic shift in the culture of violence against journalists. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

- Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

[In the Web] Arrest warrant out for Palparan

Warrant out for Palparan's arrest. Photo from http://interaksyon.com.

by Sandy Araneta

Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Malolos City has issued arrest warrants against Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and three other military officers in connection with the disappearance of University of the Philippines student activists Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2006, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said yesterday.

Judge Teodora Gonzales of Malolos City RTC Branch 14 issued the warrants of arrest dated Dec. 19 against Palparan and military officers Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado Jr., S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio, and M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario.

No bail was recommended for the four accused.

Copies of the arrest warrants were distributed to the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), DOJ and the press.

The DOJ found probable cause to file two counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention against the suspects.

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr. said PNP chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome ordered the creation of a tracker team from the CIDG to find Palparan. He said police already have an idea where he might be.

In the warrant, Palparan’s last residence was listed as Dado St., Wild Cat Village, Barangay Ususan, 1630 Taguig City.

Hilario’s last residence, on the other hand, was listed as 7th Infantry Division, Fort Magsaysay, Palanan City, Nueva Ecija and/or Dado St., Wild Cat Village, Barangay Ususan, 1630 Taguig City.

The other day, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed reports that Palparan attempted to fly to Singapore but was stopped by a watchlist order.

“The watchlist order (WLO), though expired, is still in effect since we have not officially lifted it yet. There is still a need for us to issue a lift order before the effect of the WLO ceases,” De Lima said.

Palparan was offloaded but not detained because there was no arrest warrant against him at the time.

De Lima asked the Bulacan court to issue a hold departure order (HDO) against Palparan an hour after he was stopped from flying abroad. The general earned the moniker “the butcher” for the alleged numerous human rights violations he committed during the Arroyo administration.

He earlier said he has no plans of traveling abroad because he does not have the money for it.

“I read the other day that he’s not going to leave and that he would face this case. I guess we really can’t trust liars,” De Lima said. 

Please read full article at http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=760605&publicationSubCategoryId=63

[In the Web] Impeachment is a Purging Process

Impeachment of CJ Corona: Act of Tyranny or Democracy? Photo from philippinenewsdaily.com.

By Jose Ma. Montelibano

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Published on December 15, 2011


Impeachment is a process provided by the Constitution to remove Presidents and Chief Justices. When an impeachment happens, there is disruption, the kind that triggers dramatic and unexpected change. I am happy that the situation is bringing us towards drastic change. Nothing less can reverse the endemic corruption and massive poverty afflicting the Philippines.

The impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona is a welcome development. It affirms that co-equal heads can both be vulnerable to impeachment. Even the bid to impeach P-Noy by a lawyer known to be a Marcos loyalist can remind us that there are crucial unresolved issues concerning that dictatorship and the effort to extract justice for its victims. Corona is seen as a puppet of Gloria Arroyo just as Lozano is to the Marcoses. It is good to see where lines are drawn, where Filipinos can choose to be with or against.

Even more welcome is the first show of support by judges and court employees for Corona. We have paid so much attention to the corruption in the executive and the Legislative over the decades that the corruption in the Judiciary has been put in the back burner. Yet, the view of many Filipinos, if not most, is that the justice system, meaning judges and justices, including the Supreme Court, are themselves badly tainted.

Change can now be focused on the Judiciary as well. That makes all three branches truly co-equal when change can target all of them – especially on the issue of corruption or its promotion and protection. I can remember from my boyhood the accusations and allegations against presidents and senators and congressmen. Well, today offers an opening for change that is rare.

Constitutions do not determine what is right and wrong, human conscience does. Laws cater to what people believe is right and deter what people believe is wrong. Constitutions spring from the aspirations of citizens for security, for justice, for a bright future. What is constitutional cannot veer away from the common good as expressed by the people themselves.

The weakness of the Constitution of the Philippines, all versions of it, is that the majority of Filipinos have never read it, were not party to its formation, and cannot possibly understand the letter of its provisions. The strength of a democracy, however, is not in its Constitution. It is in the value system that is most acceptable or inspiring to the people if such is reflected in the Constitution.

More than laws, it is values that are most relevant to members of a society. It is values that determine daily behavior, and values that dictate collective standards.  From these values are formed the ethics of work, the ethics of business, the ethics of professions.

What is beautiful about impeachment is that it is a political process as much, or even more, as it is a legal one as well. Being political gives Filipinos a chance to participate. If it were just legal, how can citizens get involved? I remember that an impeachment trail was going on and affected Filipinos so much that they took to the streets when they thought that numbers would be more important than what was true, what was fair. Impeachment can lead to people power if it is abused.

There is no Constitutional crisis, only a moral and ethical one. Impeachment is a purging process, and there is so much need for it. Most nations became one and strong because they went through and survived great conflict. This may be our moment.


Please read full article at http://opinion.inquirer.net/19203/impeachment-is-a-purging-process

[Video] Lest We Forget: Victims of Martial Law – youtube

Lest We Forget: 

Martial Law and its victims

ON THE 63rd anniversary of the declaration of December 10 as International Human Rights Day, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism releases a 13-minute video in memory and in honor of those who fought for democracy and freedom during the dark uncertain days of Martial Law.

The video is a compilation of the stories of six human rights victims or their families, all of them part of the 10,000 human rights victims who were recently awarded $1,000 each as part of a settlement against the estate of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

More than the story of anguish and terror and tragedy, these are stories of ordinary men and women who lived extraordinary lives. Too, these are stories of wives who became widows, and children who became orphans. Most of all, these are stories that the victims could only wish they could forget, even as they hope we all will remember and learn.

Interviews conducted by Malou Mangahas; camerawork by Winona Cueva. Editing by PCIJ interns Florenz Sison and Darlene Basingan; score by Florenz Sison.

Courtesy of http://pcij.org.

[In the Web] Rights victims turn to media for remedy, says Asia watchdog

Filipino women activists stage a play to symbolize human rights violations. Photo from http://cryptome.org.

THE failure of the Philippine government to protect its people from human rights violations has forced its citizens to seek “remedy by publicity,” according to an Asian human rights watchdog.

In a 25-page report on the Philippines, submitted in time for the International Human Rights Day on Saturday, the Asian Human Rights Commission said, “Due to absence of effective remedy in the criminal justice system, there has been an ongoing practice of victims, their families and those who supports them, to obtain some sort of remedy by way of publicity, not in the trial process.”

This means filing complaints against soldiers and policemen accused of violations is not enough for complainants, they also have to call the attention of supporters from within and outside the country to pressure the government into action.

That’s why witnesses or complainants at risk prefer to tell their stories to journalists rather than to the police. “Victims who are illegally detained, tortured and falsely charged would rather employ public pressure for their release than take legal action,” the Hong-Kong based human rights watchdog said in a statement.

“The widespread arbitrariness and disregard to elementary due process and legality that protects the rights is lacking if not completely absent. There must be a substantive discourse on the irreparable impact of how the flawed country’s system of justice operates to this day.”

Monsignor Clemente Ignacio, rector of the Quiapo Church in Manila, said the government must strengthen structures to protect the rights of the victims and those filing charges.

“We are saddened that in our beloved homeland, we continue to hear and witness violations of the rights of our brothers and sisters,” he said in an interview Saturday. “We could do a lot, if only all our branches in government could work together to uphold the rights of the citizens.”

Please read full article at http://www.cathnewsphil.com/2011/12/13/rights-victims-turn-to-media-for-remedy-rights-watchdog/



[In the Web] Chief justice impeached for ‘supporting Arroyo’

Titanic clash looms in the impeachment of CJ Corona. Photo from http://globalbalita.com.

Raissa Robles in Manilla
Dec 13, 2011

Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached yesterday by the House of Representatives for allegedly issuing decisions favouring former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo‘s government.

Corona will become the first Philippine chief justice to face an impeachment trial before the Senate. It will start next year, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said late yesterday.
Only 95 signatures were needed.Corona’s impeachment came suddenly when 188 lawmakers in the 287-member House signed the Articles of Impeachment that the house leadership drafted this weekend.

Edcel Lagman, the House minority leader and a loyal ally of Arroyo, branded the move “the mother of all blackmails”. He claimed congressmen were told they would miss out on “pork-barrel” funding for pet projects if they did not back the move.

Arroyo is under guard at a military hospital after her arrest on charges of electoral sabotage. She denies the charges.

Other lawmakers denied Lagman’s claim. Congressman Teodoro Casino said that his militant bloc signed up to the impeachment because “this is an important step in holding [Arroyo] accountable for her crimes against the people”.

Last month, the Corona-led Supreme Court ruled that Arroyo could leave the country despite a travel ban issued by the Department of Justice. But immigration authorities blocked Arroyo from boarding a plane on the orders of the justice department.

Corona warned court employees yesterday of “a secret plot to oust me from office, by any means fair or foul” and promised a fight.

Corona is the third highest official to be impeached, after former president Joseph Estrada in 2000 and ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez earlier this year.

Animosity between Corona and President Benigno Aquino came to a head last week after Aquino delivered a stinging conference speech moments after shaking Corona’s hand.

Aquino told Corona he was a “midnight appointee”, because the latter assumed office only a week after Aquino’s sweeping electoral victory last year, then detailed a number of decisions Corona made favouring Arroyo.

Corona served as her presidential chief of staff and spokesman before she appointed him to the Supreme Court.

Please read original article posted at http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2af62ecb329d3d7733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=037a9249b2334310VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&ss=asia%20world&s=news