Desaparecidos, in Spanish, means disappeared or missing. It is a term used for the victims of forced or involuntary disappearances. Forced or involuntary disappearance is the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person. Most of the victims are political or union leaders, or outspoken activists.
Usually, perpetrators abduct, detain, torture, kill, and dispose of their victim’s body. They do this to escape discovery and to make it appear as a missing person who disappeared without a trace. That is why most people assume murder especially if the person has disappeared for too long.
Forced disappearance works in two ways:
(1) The perpetrators silence their opponents by abducting and killing them; and
(2) they put an air of uncertainty and fear on society as a form of public warning.
This kind of warning has reached high levels and gone too far.
These disappearances are crimes in themselves. They violate their right to liberty, personal security, humane treatment, fair trial, and legal counsel. The victims’ families, who spend the rest of their lives searching, have the right to information as well.
Charlie del Rosario was the first documented desaparecido. He was a professor at the Philippine College of Commerce (now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines) and a known activist. He was last seen on the night of 13 March 1971 putting posters for the national congress of the Movement for Democratic Philippines at the former PCC compound in Lepanto Street (now S.H. Loyola Street). His disappearance happened before the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the declaration of Martial Law. He was never seen or heard of until now. That’s a total of 51 years. Anybody would assume that he’s dead and his body will never be found.
Since that incident, over 1,900 persons have disappeared in the Philippines. The number may be unbelievable, but look:
- President Ferdinand E. Marcos (1966-1986) = 878 cases
- President Corazon C. Aquino (1986-1992) = 614 cases
- President Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998) = 94 cases
- President Joseph E. Estrada (1998-2001) = 58 cases
- President Gloria M. Arroyo (2001-2010) = 182 cases
- President Benigno C. Aquino (2010-2016) = 31 cases
- President Rodrigo R. Duterte (2016-present) = 47 cases as of November 2018
It shows that the succeeding governments after Marcos failed to bring justice to these victims and stop this kind of disappearance. Their families have received neither compensation nor any kind of redress. Yet, these families continue struggling for truth and justice.
At present, with an all-out war on drugs under President Rodrigo R. Duterte, people continue to disappear and are killed extra-judicially (EJK). While the authorities hunt down drug syndicates and criminals, the corrupt use forced disappearance to silence their men and enemies who would likely squeal. It may not be for political reasons this time, but still the same modus operandi.
And with the coming new administration of President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. families of these desaparecidos fear that this will continue.