The Cruelty of Enforced Disappearances: An Abhorrent Crime Against Humanity

They are victims of the same abhorrent acts, although three decades apart. One has searched for a sister, the other is still looking for his parents. One shared the same belief as his sister, the other could not fully understand his parents’ work. But whether it happened during Martial Law or now that we are supposedly under a democracy, whether the relative is a sister, a brother, or a parent, or whether one is an activist or not, the pain one feels in having his or her relative forcibly disappeared by state security agents is still the same; it does not diminish the cruel effects of the crime.


Sometime in July 1977, Rizalina Ilagan rendezvoused with nine companions Gerardo Faustino, Jessica Sales, Modesto Sison, Cristina Catalla, Ramon Jasul, Emmanuel Salvacruz, Salvador Panganiban, Virgilio Silva and Erwin de la Torre at the Makati Medical Center. That fateful day, they were abducted by state security agents and were never seen alive again.

Bonifacio Ilagan, Rizalina’s brother, believes that his sister’s abduction was the handiwork of a composite team of state security forces called the Ground Team 205. The team, he said, was comprised by agents from the 2nd Military Intelligence Group, 2nd Constabulary Security Unit and 231st Company of the Philippine Constabulary headed by a certain Col. Gallido.

An informant told Ilagan that there were 24 agents, including civilians, in the team. The team was operating in Southern Tagalog but could also strike anywhere. Rizalina, later called as the Southern Tagalog 10, were forcibly abducted at the Makati Medical Center.

It was the single-biggest case of abduction during martial law.

Bonifacio Ilagan.

Ilagan related that before the incident, Rizalina got in touch with him and insisted on meeting him. Ilagan said he knew it would be dangerous. He knew he was placed under surveillance by the military to trace other activists. Rizalina then was in the underground movement.

A leader of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), Ilagan was arrested in 1974 and released two years after. In 1977, he was still reporting to Camp Crame on a weekly basis and had re-enrolled at the University of the Philippines (UP).

It was early July of the same year when she met Rizalina. He felt she had something very important to say. Rizalina told him that some of their colleagues have been missing. They needed a halfway house. Ilagan agreed to look for a house and had set a date for their next meeting. Rizalina never came.

Not expecting the worst

Ilagan said an emissary later told him that Rizalina and nine others have been missing.

He said, “All the while, I thought my sister was just arrested… I didn’t expect the worst.”Ilagan said he thought then that Rizalina would be surfaced later, as what happened to him and to other political detainees during that period.

When they received no news about Rizalina, the family went to military camps and to the Ministry of National Defense to look for her. Ilagan said they even tried to look for contacts within the military but to no avail.

A month after the abduction, the family got in touch with someone who had contacts within the intelligence community, said Ilagan. The source promised he would try to help. When the man came back to them, the family was told, “It’s too late.” Ilagan said the man confirmed that Rizalina was in the hands of the military. The custody of Rizalina, they were told, was no longer within the regular procedure. The informant did not say if Rizalina was still alive.

Later, Modesto Sison’s body was found in Lucena City, Quezon province. Two others Virgilio Silva and Salvador Panganiban were found in a ravine in Tagaytay City, Cavite. The rest, including Rizalina, have not been found to this day.

Double whammy

Ilagan said their parents, especially their mother, took his arrest and detention and Rizalina’s abduction as a double whammy.

When he was released, his mother was somehow relieved. His mother would visit him regularly. “After two years, I was released out of her sheer determination,” said Ilagan.He said he was released not through the regular procedure. His mother tried to establish connections with relatives of Gen. Fabian Ver.

Ilagan was among the detainees held in maximum security prisons. From Day 1 until his release, intelligence agents served as their custodians. He was detained at the headquarters of the 5th Police Constabulary Security Unit in Camp Crame.

He said Rizalina’s disappearance had been too much for the family. He said that their parents believed that more harm could be inflicted on their daughter. Rizalina was the youngest daughter and sixth of the seven siblings. Ilagan was fifth. Two of their brothers were also activists during martial law.

No time to grieve

Ilagan said he did not have the time to grieve for they have not found her body.

But he said that after several years, he knew she was gone. “Going by the record of that [military] unit, walang bubuhayin (they will leave no one alive),” said Ilagan.

He said he got the information about the Ground Team 205 from a detainee held for years by the said unit, and was able to escape. They did not kill her but forced her to be an asset. Every time the soldiers would transfer to another safehouse, they would take the woman-detainee with them. Ilagan was able to talk with the woman after she escaped. She knew about the operations against Rizalina and her companions.

Rizalina’s case was included in the class suit filed against Ferdinand Marcos in Hawaii.

Still painful

Ilagan admitted that even today, whenever thoughts of Rizalina come to him, his heart becomes heavy.

“Dahil alam ko kung ano ang pwedeng nangyari sa kanya,” (Because I know what could have been done to her.) he said.

He said Rizalina and the other women with her were raped.

“Sana bigla na lang ang naging pagkamatay niya, hindi dahan-dahan.” (I wish she just had died instantly, not slowly.)

He showed a photo of her sister taken in 1971. During Rizalina’s birthday (June 19), he lights a candle. He named her daughter Dessa Rizalina.

Ilagan described his sister as very pleasant and gentle. Problems could not bring her spirits down, said Ilagan. They also had similar interests. Rizalina joined KM when she was only 15. Ilagan recruited her. He acted as a big brother to her, often taking her to his activities in school. When he joined the Dramatics Club, Rizalina joined, too. When he became active in the KM’s theater group in UP, Rizalina also did the same at the UP Los Baños.

He recalled giving her a copy of the new edition of Philippine Society and Revolution the last time he saw her.

He could also vividly remember the time Rizalina ‘visited’ him in prison.

Rizalina went with their mother one Saturday. She did not go inside the receiving room and just waited outside. Their mother told him Rizalina just wanted to see him. As Ilagan led his mother to the gate, he saw Rizalina. She smiled at him and raised her clenched fist. Ilagan said it was her way of saying goodbye before she took to the hills to join the underground movement. While talking about this particular day, Ilagan broke into tears.

The Southern Tagalog 10 went missing during martial law. Under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government, enforced disappearances continue to inflict pain on the relatives of victims.

Both parents missing

Erloreb ‘Nooky’ Mendez’s parents Celina Palma and Prudencio Calubid were abducted by military agents on June 26, 2006 along Maharlika Highway near Sipocot, Camarines Sur.

Calubid was a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Mendez said before the incident, he saw Erlinda Cadapan and Connie Empeño on television. “Naawa ako sa mga estudyante,” he said. (I felt sorry for the students.) He was not expecting that both his parents would be missing too.

Looking up the same sky

On the same day, his younger brother Junjun sent him a text message saying that their parents were abducted. At first, he did not want to believe him.

When it dawned on him that what his brother told him about their parents’ abduction was probably true, he looked up the sky. It was late at night then. “Ito ang nakikita nila na nakikita ko rin, ang ulap. Sabi ko ‘Ma, ingat parati.’ (What I am seeing right now, the sky and clouds, are the same sky and clouds they are also seeing right now. I said, ‘Ma, take care always.’)

Missing their moments together

When his birthday (July 6) came, Mendez was hoping his father would call him as he always did. He did not receive any call.

Nooky is the eldest of three siblings. They grew up with their aunt. Their father visited them once a year, usually during Christmas break or summer. Their mother also visited them once in a while. Their parents sometimes took them during their trips.

Mendez recalled, “Tuwing magkikita kami, pinilipilit ni Papa na mag-usap kami as family. Kinukumusta kami isa-isa.” (Every time we were together, Papa would insist that we talk as a family. He would ask each one of us how we were doing.)

This photo of Prudencio Calubid was taken by his son using a cellphone.

Before, he found the habit corny. Now, he missed those times. He said the last time he was with his parents was in December 2005. His father was quite disappointed because the family was not complete. That time, his brother and sister were in another place. That year, too, Mendez was doing his thesis. He was a graduating student taking up Computer Science in a private school in their province.

Recalling how he felt when he learned about their parents’ enforced disappearance, he related, “Di ko alam gagawin ko. Hirap ako, di ko alam kung paano mag-move on. Di ko nga alam kung dapat bang mag-move on kasi di naman sila namatay, nawawala sila.” (I did not know what to do. It was so hard. I did not know how to move on. I did not even know if I have to move on because they did not die, they went missing.)

He could hardly concentrate on his studies. During those years, from 2006 to 2007, Mendez said he and his brother and sister did not talk about their parents. “Ang bigat-bigat.” (We felt heavy-hearted.)

During his graduation, Mendez said he immediately left after the program. “Malungkot naman. Nakita ko magulang ng ibang kaklase ko.” (It was so sad seeing my classmates with their parents.)On his cellphone, he has kept a video of his father taken last April 2, 2005 and a few photographs of his mother and father.

Same plight

In September 2007, he got in touch with Desaperacidos, an organization of families of the disappeared. “Dito ko nalaman na hindi lang pala ako ang nawalan, marami pa pala. Magandang makipag-usap sa mga taong nararamdaman ang nararamdaman mo,” said Mendez. (It was only then that I realized that I am not the only one with missing loved ones, there were several others. It feels good to talk with people who also feel the way you do.)

He said he has started ‘processing’ his emotions. He said they would cry whenever one of them is being interviewed. “Apektado kaming lahat.” (We are all affected.)

They also support each other, said Mendez. They join camp searches, fact-finding missions, filing of cases and other activities for the victims. He said he is also learning a lot from the other victims. He admitted he could not understand fully the nature of his parents’ work.

Mendez recalled that Elizabeth Principe said his father was kind and funny. Principe is also a consultant of the NDFP. She is detained at Camp Crame on trumped-up murder charges.

Perpetrators, cowardice

Asked if he believed the military took his parents, Mendez said yes.

He said a witness said so. Junjun, his younger brother was able to talk to the witness Antonio Lacno. Lacno was with Calubid, Palma and two others when soldiers in uniform on board a red Tamaraw FX and four other Toyota Revo vehicles blocked their vehicle. (See Man Hides for Days, Crosses Rivers to Escape Military Abduction

Junjun told him that Lacno was shaking when the latter was relating what happened, apparently traumatized. Mendez called the abductions as ‘acts of cowardice.’“Bakit nila dudukutin pwede namang sampahan ng kaso?” (Why would they abduct people if they can file cases instead?) asked Mendez.

He added, “Kung may kasalanan, sampahan nila ang kaso hindi iyong pahirapan ang buong pamilya ng mga tao.” (If someone has committed anything wrong, they should file a case and not make the families of victims suffer.)

Continuing search for their relatives and the pursuit of justice

Mendez said that after more than two years, he is still continuing his search for his parents. He admitted, however, it is difficult. “Di alam paano magse-search, safehouses ang pinagdalhan sa kanila.” (I do not know where to search for them, they were brought to safehouses.)

He also expressed disappointment over the dismissal of amparo petitions filed by other victims’ relatives. Their petition for habeas corpus was dismissed last year. “Kay Jonas Burgos, may ebidensya naman. Ano pang aasahan mo? Nadi-dismiss ang mga kaso namin.” (The relatives of Jonas Burgos has evidences linking the military to the abduction. What else can we hope for? The cases we filed are being dismissed.)

For Ilagan, he felt a sense of justice when the New People’s Army killed a certain Col. Sebastian, a member of the Ground Team 205 years after the abduction of the Southern Tagalog 10.

Doing the same abhorrent acts

Ilagan recalled that in December 2002, he and families of the Southern Tagalog 10 sought a dialogue with Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They had breakfast with Arroyo at the state dining room. Angelo Reyes, then defense secretary and Mercedita Guttierez, then acting justice secretary, also joined them.

They gave a letter to Arroyo stating that the government must take full responsibility for what happened to the Southern Tagalog 10. They also asked the government to make available all documents pertaining to the perpetrators. “Walang pagtutol si Gloria… Nag-volunteer pa na magtayo ng monument sa UPLB at sa Lucena,” said Ilagan. (Gloria did not object…She even volunteered to put up a monument at the UPLB and in Lucena City.)

Years later, nothing came out of the meeting, said Ilagan. “Ginaya niya pa ang mga kasong inirereklamo namin.” (She even did the same acts we are complaining about.)

Ilagan said, “At least Marcos declared martial law before he did all the things he did. GMA [initials of Arroyo], even without declaring martial law, is doing what Marcos did.”

Ilagan also noted that under the Arroyo administration, most of the victims of abductions, extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations are ordinary activists and supporters. During the time of Marcos, he said the targets are usually those who held high positions in the organization.

The same monster

Ilagan said that even when there is no martial law, one thing has remained – the same monster of a military organization.He said the military tasted unlimited power during the Marcos years. After people power in 1986, Corazon Aquino failed to reform the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Under Arroyo, Ilagan said that those with fascist mentality and are very much anti-Left have the upper hand in government. He said that Arroyo, beleaguered with the issue of illegitimacy, clings on to the military for survival. “These are vested interests that have combined to cultivate a culture of impunity,” Ilagan said.

Must not forget

Ilagan said the Filipino people must not forget the dark days of martial law.The government, he said, has been trying to make us forget what happened during martial law. This, plus the relatively short memory of the public, said Ilagan, must be fought.

“There is a need to educate and organize,” he concluded. (Bulatlat)

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