• 25 cases of disappearances haunt Aquino administration

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    ENFORCED disappearances continue to threaten human rights in the country as 25 cases were reported during the Aquino administration, according to Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) Chairman Nila Lagman—Sevilla at a forum in the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication Auditorium on Thursday.

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    “If we aim [for]the daang matuwid, then we should have respect for human rights,” Sevilla said.

    Sevilla said that most abductors were powerful individuals, elected and appointed persons or groups and even the military and authorities.

    FIND also reported enforced disappearances since the Marcos to Aquino administrations with 878 cases from Marcos administration while 825 cases from the late President Corazon Aquino.

    “Numbers are still up in the Cory Aquino administration because Cory inherited Marcos’ military,” Sevilla added.

    Cases trimmed down to 94 in the Fidel Ramos administration because Ramos was focused on Philippines 2000, which envisioned to strengthen the country’s economy, Sevilla explained.

    FIND reported a decrease with 58 cases in the Estrada administration, rising again to 340 during the Arroyo administration.

    The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) reported 53,986 cases of forced disappearances since February 1980.

    “Human Rights Lawyer Hermon Lagman was my brother who was abducted 36 years ago. Until now, he is still missing. My family is not alone in enduring the same experience. There are many families like us,” Sevilla said.

    Meanwhile, Political Prisoner Bernardo Itucal narrated his experience as a victim of enforced disappearance in 1988. He was then an organizer at Kabataan Para sa Demokrasya at Nationalismo.

    Itucal was abducted in his home in Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City at 1 a.m. of February 8, 1988.

    “A group of men put a bayong [sack]in my head and pushed me towards the back of a car. I was between two unidentified men. Those men hit me continuously for four hours while the car was heading its way to a province,” he said.

    Itucal was handcuffed and taken to what he said was a hardware store by the group of men. “Among the tortures that I experienced were hitting my ankle and splashing a pail of water with minced siling labuyo,” Itucal said.

    He found out later on that his abductors were policemen, who identified him as being affiliated with the Alex Boncayao Brigade.

    “I was accused of a crime that I did not commit. The policemen asked me if I was associated with Jonas Burgos and my position in a leftist organization. They forced me to say yes but I refused so they continued torturing me,” Itucal added.

    The next day, Itucal said that he was under custody of the Western Police District in Balut, Tondo. “ The station commander hit me with a porcelain figure at the back of my head because I refused to plead guilty about the accusations against me.”

    Itucal said that if he did not admit the charges being leveled against him before the media, only his head would be returned to his family. “The media arrived later on to a press conference about my plea. After the presscon, they brought me to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City and held me there for another three weeks,” he said.

    Itucal said that he was asked the same questions every day. His abductors also showed pictures of different individuals and asked him if he knew them. The torture continued in Camp Bagong Diwa.

    “Some soldiers were drunk when they asked me those questions. They hit me by marching over my body. There was one incident wherein they pushed me inside a grave for 10 minutes. I felt like it was my last minutes,” Itucal continued.

    He also heard a fellow abductee screaming because of torture in the next room. “That time, puzzle execution was a trend in extra-judicial killings. I spoke to a safekeeping guard at Bagong Diwa. I requested not to cut my body parts and put it to different places should they kill me,” Itucal said.

    Another soldier detained in the camp, he said, helped him to meet his family again. “The detained soldier told me to put my name and address together with a short message on a piece of paper. His visitor brought it to my family,” Itucal said.

    His mother arrived at the camp after two weeks. “I did not change my clothes from the time of my abduction because that was my only identification,” Itucal said.

    After reuniting with his mother, Itucal was charged with double murder. “It took only eight months then I was imprisoned for five years. Later on, the Supreme Court released me because of insufficient evidence.”

    Psychologist for Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances Josephine Callejo said that families of forced disappearances also need psycho-social aid to help them cope with the struggles of finding their missing loved ones.

    Itucal having been separated from his loved ones damaged his his life, his family and his future. He is now part of FIND, which lobbied for Republic Act 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012. It is the first law enacted in Asia and was signed by Aquino in December 2012.

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