Human Rights Watch (HRW) has raised the alarm over the continuing occurrence of enforced disappearances in the Philippines, which it described as a “scourge”.
Carlos Conde, senior researcher of the Asia division of HRW, said the recent acquittal of former Army Major General Jovito Palparan for the 2006 abduction and torture of two brothers “highlights the persistence of impunity for enforced disappearances” in the country.
Raymond Manalo, a key witness in the Palparan case, was visibly distraught outside a courtroom in Bulacan province after the verdict was announced.
He and his brother, Reynaldo, had come forward with allegations that they were abducted and subjected to torture by Palparan and his men in 2006.
Manalo’s testimonies helped convict Palparan in 2018 for the enforced disappearance, torture, and rape of students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006, who remain missing.
This recent verdict has brought the issue of enforced disappearances into sharp focus, underscoring a larger problem in the Philippines, according to Conde.
Numerous activists have gone missing in recent months under dubious circumstances. On September 29, activists Lee Sudario and Norman Ortiz were abducted by unidentified individuals in Nueva Ecija province.
On September 23, activists Job Abednego David, Peter del Monte, and Alia Encela were allegedly seized by soldiers in Oriental Mindoro province, with the military claiming they were New People’s Army (NPA) rebels but offering no information on their whereabouts. As of now, all five activists remain missing.
Environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamayo reported that they were abducted by soldiers in Bataan province on September 2 and held captive for days.
The military accused them of being NPA members who had decided to surrender and presented them at a press conference, while the activists maintained they had been forcibly taken.
In April, Indigenous rights activists Dexter Capuyan and Gene Roz Jamil de Jesus were forcibly taken in separate vehicles in Rizal province and have yet to be located.
In January, activists Armand Dayoha and Dyan Gumanao were abducted in public, in broad daylight, before a CCTV camera at a pier in Cebu City. They reemerged days later, recounting their traumatic experiences.
Conde lambasted the infectivity of the law against enforced disappearances – the first in Asia – that Congress enacted in 2012. He said the law “has proven useless” in addressing the issue.
He called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to push for the Senate’s ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Conde also urged the government to conduct “prompt and impartial investigations of disappearance cases and the appropriate prosecution of those responsible, regardless of their position or rank”.