‘Beyond Disappearance: Chronicles of Courage’

Credit to Author: Edcel C. Lagman| Date: Wed, 07 Apr 2021 16:02:44 +0000

THE second edition of Beyond Disappearance: Chronicles of Courage was launched on March 31, 2021 at a time when courage is paramount. Like the desaparecidos whose struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms was propelled by steadfast courage, today we need to be fearless and resolute in order to prevail and surmount the continuing resurgence of repression.

Beyond Disappearance memorializes the heroes and martyrs who fought against the atrocities, repression, plunder and profligacy of the Marcos martial rule; recognizes the struggles and sacrifices of those who forfeited their lives and those who have survived merciless torture to liberate the masses of our people from the Marcos dictatorship; and instills in the national consciousness that the desaparecidos did not sacrifice and die in vain.

Beyond Disappearance is an indictment against those who prostituted their right of suffrage by electing and installing to prominent public positions the familial and principal beneficiaries of martial law; it is a condemnation of the Marcos family and their loyalists for historical revisionism by feigning the “greatness” and “patriotism” of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and concealing his despotism and greed; it is a continuing protest against the wicked and scandalous burial of the dictator Marcos at the hallowed Libingan ng mga Bayani even as no makeshift crosses mark the graves of the desaparecidos.

Featured in the book among many other kindred indomitable spirits are: Prof. Charlie del Rosario, the first documented Filipino desaparecido who was “vaporized” on March 19, 1971, six months before martial law was declared. An “articulator for nationalism, social reform and civil liberties,” Charlie’s enforced disappearance was a portent of the atrocities soon to befall the country.

Lawyer Hermon C. Lagman was the first lawyer to have been involuntarily disappeared 44 years ago on May 11, 1977. He was a youthful crusading pro bono labor lawyer. He advocated that the solidarity of the working class is its weapon against exploitation and repression. He defied the Marcos edict banning labor strikes as he led unions to stage strikes to protect and redeem workers’ rights, like the historic La Tondeña strike where the strikers won. My younger brother Hermon was soft-spoken, but his passionate and uncompromising devotion to workers would impel him to tempered rage every time their rights were violated. He was never afraid to elevate the workingman.

Caloy M. Tayag left the safe confines of a cloistered Benedictine monks’ abbey to travel the perilous terrains of Christian activism. He actualized evangelical social justice. At the height of his advocacy of, in his own words, “aliving” for the oppressed and disadvantaged, Caloy was snatched on Aug. 19, 1975 by Marcos military elements never to be seen again.

Romeo G. Crismo was an indefatigable youth leader and energetic organizer of youth movements under the auspices of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the Philippines. His activism and advocacy knew no frontiers and no time constraints. He could have done much more in rallying the youth against the Marcos hegemony had he not been abducted by plainclothes agents on Aug. 12, 1980 at St. Louis College of Tuguegarao, where he was teaching, at the age of 24.

The desaparecidos inspired the passage of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10353), which took 16 grueling years to enact. This law criminalizes enforced disappearance as a special crime, separate from the ordinary crimes of murder, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, and physical injuries, under which, for a long time, acts of involuntary disappearance were prosecuted.

The elements of enforced disappearance are: 1) arrest, detention, abduction, or deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or persons acting for or with the acquiescence of the government; 2) refusal to disclose or concealment of the victim’s whereabouts; and 3) the victim is deprived protection of the law.

RA 10353 incorporates relatively novel concepts: 1) non-derogability of the right against enforced disappearance which shall not be suspended during political instability, threat of war, state of war or other public emergencies; 2) liability as principal of the commanding or superior officer whose acts led to the commission of the crime or who had knowledge of such commission but failed to prevent or investigate the same; 3) the crime is continuing as long as the perpetrators conceal the fate of the victim and the attendant circumstances have not been ascertained; and 4) non-prescription of the offense unless the victim surfaces alive, in which case the prescriptive period shall be 25 years from the date of reappearance.

Although the law aims to end impunity, no offender has yet been prosecuted in court under the law. The following factors militate against prosecution: reluctance of authorities to enforce the law; secrecy in the commission of the offense which makes difficult the gathering of inculpatory evidence; time has obliterated evidence in decades-old offenses; fear of reprisal intimidates witnesses from testifying; and the masterminds’ powerful positions hinder prosecution. Hopefully, prosecution will ultimately prosper, and the law will deter further commission of the crime.

Beyond Disappearance: Chronicles of Courage is an ennobling epitaph to desaparecidos who are still missing and presumed to have perished, and to those who have been found dead; it is an enduring memorial to those who have survived the ordeals of enforced disappearance; it is a constant reminder for us to muster relentless courage in the pursuit and defense of justice and freedom; it is a potent antidote against amnesia, of forgetting the odiousness and avarice of the Marcos martial law regime; and it is a compelling impetus to forever celebrate the selfless courage and boundless heroism of desaparecidos who were committed to oust a despot and regain the people’s inalienable rights.

Rep. Edcel C. Lagman is a principal author of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012. His email address is edcel.lagman@hor.gov.ph

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