It was Father’s Day of 1990. Ron de Vera, who was then 9 years old, couldn’t wait to go out with his dad Manuel “Noni” Manaog for a celebration.
Ron waited for Manuel to pick him up. But after hours of waiting, his excitement turned into worry. His father never showed up. Manuel was never seen or heard from since that day.
Ron’s mother, Adora Faye, knew right away what must have happened to her husband. She knew because she’d been on the same boat during the Martial Law period. She herself was abducted for a year and surfaced with a story that a military officer turned her into a sex slave during her disappearance.
Manuel and Adora were members of militant groups, and forced disappearances are part of the nature of their advocacy work.
“There’s a pattern here. Because of my father’s work, we knew that what happened to him was not a petty crime. We never saw any trace of his body, we knew that it’s a forced disappearance,” Ron relates.
The case the family filed for Manuel did not prosper.
It has been 25 years. Ron is not just searching for his father; he is seeking for the truth.
“Kung patay ba siya o buhay, hindi talaga namin alam [If he is dead or alive, we don’t really know],” he said.
Ritz Lee Santos 3rd, chairperson of human rights organization Amnesty International, said that while there are fewer human rights abuses under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the wheels of justice for the victims since the Martial Law years remain sluggish.
Karapatan reported 1,206 victims of extra-judicial killings during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and 229 cases under Aquino administration from July 2010 to March 2015.
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) documented 251 victims of extra-judicial executions, disappearances and torture from 2010 to April 2015.
“It saddens us that although there are only few incidents now, the existing cases remain unresolved. There is no prosecution and conviction. And it worries us that there seems to be an impunity happening,” Santos said.
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Information and Communications Chief Banuar Falcon noted that human rights abuses are not just associated with the police and military harassment.
The type of abuses is now different compared to the previous administrations, where there was a surge of civil and political rights violations.
According to Falcon, most complaints before the CHR are leveled against state entities that are mandated to protect human rights.
The CHR authority, however, is only limited to information campaign, filing of cases and giving assistance to victims. The agency cannot issue a cease-and-desist order or arrest warrant against violators.
With the emergence of various types of human rights abuses, Falcon encouraged “people [to be]aware of their rights and they should file complaints whenever they feel violated.”
“People are always free to approach us. Our doors are always open to receive complaints and we are trying to improve our capacity to be able to help more than we actually can. We’re always trying to capacitate our self,” Falcon said.
A ‘personal journey’
Ron is now 35 years old. He is the country coordinator for the Philippines of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD).
He admitted that at first, he did not want to be a human rights worker because he wanted to move on from his excruciating past.
But the urge to seek justice for his father, along with many other desaparecidos, made him decide to leave his stable corporate job in 2010.
“What I am doing is not just a search for my father but also a search for truth for other victims of forced disappearances. The pain of losing someone is incomparable and I don’t want this to happen to others,” he told The Manila Times.