UP students now 13 years missing, more are disappeared under Duterte

One year after Palparan conviction

QUEZON CITY – “We commemorate than celebrate because after a year Palparan was convicted, the question remains, where are our daughters?”

Thus said the mothers of missing University of the Philippines students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan on the 13th year of their disappearance, and a year after retired major general Jovito Palparan was convicted for kidnapping with serious illegal detention for their disappearance.  

Erlinda and Connie, mother of Sherlyn and Karen respectively, were joined by friends, other families of desaparecidos, and students of the University of the Philippines in a gathering at UP Diliman today, to remind the public that their continued disappearance deems a continued plea for justice.

“Palparan is in jail, and that is just right for the crimes he committed, for taking away our daughters and all others who went missing where the military ordered and implemented abductions under his command. Pero hindi sapat si Palparan (Palparan is not enough). His men are still out there. Those who think like him are still out there. Not Palparan, not one of his men has answered, where did they take our daughters?” said Linda Cadapan, chairperson of Desaparecidos, the organization of families of enforced disappearances.

Connie, mother of Karen, is in mourning, as she now remembers the day her daughter disappeared alone, after the recent death of her husband, Oscar Empeno.  

“This is the first time that Oca is not here with me in remembering Karen, and seeking justice. We bore the pain together of searching for Karen, and taking care of our children who miss their sister. It pains me that he never got to see her daughter or know what happened to her, to his death,” said Connie Empeno.

Oca and Connie would attend hearings together, and spoke in public about their daughter. Connie would always say it was Oca who inspired both Karen’s love for studying and being aware and active on social issues.

“I miss them both, and I now hope that they shall find closure, the same way that we, the living survivors of desaparecidos, want closure once and for all while we are still here,” said Connie.

Desaparecidos to UN: Help us seek justice for Duterte’s desaparecidos

Cadapan also said that their search for justice does not stop at Palparan’s conviction, because they now search for more desaparecidos who went missing under the Duterte administration.

Karapatan has documented 26 victims of enforced disappearances since Duterte assumed office in 2016.

Joining the activity is Consolacion Torres, wife of Joey Torres, Sr. a coordinator of Bayan Muna in Central Luzon, who went missing on September 20, 2018.  

“I cannot imagine the pain of Connie, Linda, Edith and all the other families of the disappeared until I had to search for my own missing kin. It really is unimaginable and sometimes unbearable, but their courage to fight and continue seeking justice has given me strength to continue,” Consolacion said.

Consolacion now regularly attends activities of Desaparecidos, not just as a human rights advocate, but as a member and family of a desaparecido.

“Duterte should be made accountable for the desaparecidos abducted under his reign. His government has not pushed to surface a single desaparecido from the previous administrations, but adds more to the long list of the missing. They even had the gall to move for the delisting of the victims in international bodies like the UN!” said Consolacion.

Early this year, the Duterte government has pushed for the removal of the names of more than 600 desaparecidos in the list of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.  Desaparecidos wrote an appeal to the UN WGEID not to erase the list, and look into the issue of continuing enforced disappearances in the Philippines.

“We hope that the UN Human Rights Council, which is now in session, will include looking into the issue of continuing enforced disappearances in the Philippines. We are more than ready to serve as witness in their investigation. We want to let the world know that despite all legal mechanisms and remedies which promise accountability and justice in the country, our loved ones remain missing. More are disappeared by the Duterte government and they should be made accountable for this,” said Cadapan.

Desaparecidos to NBP: Make sure Palparan is no VIP

The group Desaparecidos also said they want to know how Palparan is doing at the maximum security of New Bilibid Prisons, and see to it that he is indeed an inmate there.  

“We want to make sure that Palparan is treated there as a prisoner, and not some privileged VIP as a former military general. We need that because we know how erring military and government officials are treated here, and that is the least we can do while we want him to pay for his crimes,” said Belith Batralo, vice chairperson of Desaparecidos.

Rights groups decried what they deemed as special treatment to Palparan last year, after it took a while for the former military general to be transferred to Bilibid due to delays made by the military as they kept Palparan at Fort Bonifacio, an army camp.

“All these efforts to pursue justice should not be made to this waste. As our loved ones remain missing, the conviction of Palparan remains as a glimmer of hope to us that one day, all other masterminds and persons involved in disappearing the desaparecidos, will ultimately be made accountable. We will never give up,” said Batralo. ###

Linda Cadapan, chairperson, Desaparecidos, 0919-9880630
Cristina Guevarra, secretary general, Desaparecidos, 0999-3933100

KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign. Karapatan Public Information Desk: +639189790580 | [email protected]