Book of the disappeared
Forced out of sight, but not out of mind and heart. The bad word here is “forced,” but that act of cruelty cannot dim the resolve of families to find their loved ones who were forcibly made to disappear by state forces several decades ago. Nothing deters them. Not power and might, not time and distance.
We are still in remember-September mode, bringing to mind how 45 years ago in September the Marcos dictatorship laid waste to our liberties, snuffed out lives, seized people and properties, and ushered in the Philippines’ 14 years in the grip of an iron hand.
The book “Beyond Disappearance: Chronicles of Courage” is at the heart of Filipinos’ experience of martial law and tyranny. Published by FIND (Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances) with the help of the Embassy of Finland, the book came out years ago without much fanfare, and thus not many knew about it. But it can hold its own beside other books about that dark era.
The stories are well-told, the pages well-designed, and the search/find pictures are stories in themselves. In his foreword, Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman whose younger brother Hermon, a labor lawyer, is among the disappeared, writes about the practice of enforced disappearance that dates back to antiquity but was/is still a cruel practice in modern times — from ancient Persia and the Roman empire to the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Latin America, and Asia.
The word “disappeared” (a verb turned into a noun) is English for desaparecido which refers to those who were forcibly made to disappear by state forces. The practice was common in Latin America’s dictatorships and the word has since become part of international human rights lexicon.
Here is the definition of the United Nations Draft Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance: “Enforced disappearance is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such a person outside the protection of the law.”
Five desaparecido portraits or cases are featured in the book—those of Charlie del Rosario (first documented desaparecido), Hermon C. Lagman, Caloy Tayag, Romeo Crismo and the Southern Tagalog 10.
While I have known about many of the missing or met their next of kin, it is only recently that I knew about FIND’s efforts to find the remains of the disappeared. Yes, a number of the 1,350 missing (from 1971 to 2005) have been found—78 to be exact. In remote graves and unlikely places.
It is the chapter on the search and discovery of remains that I find most interesting. The stories seem straight out of a crime TV series. Louie Crismo, at one time FIND secretary general, joined the search and exhumation of remains. The photographs say a lot about what the victims underwent. The skeletal remains, their positions, the electric cord tied around an ankle.
“[In 2001, a] team headed by Dr. Benito Molino uncovered two sets of human remains in Barangay New Tuburan, the second site of the Tigbao (Zamboanga del Sur) exhumation mission. One of the sets of remains was that of Celedonio Mondido, a 53-year-old farmer, and the other was of Eliseo Orbeta, 21 years old at the time of his death.
“Eliseo’s remains were dug up from a grave about 80 meters from the grave of Mang Celedonio. Eliseo was decapitated.”
Thirty-six pages contain the list of the missing 1,350 (including the 78 who were later found in graves). Also included are the bill (now a law) defining and penalizing enforced disappearances and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
In his foreword, Lagman paraphrases Czech author Milan Kundera: “The struggle of man against abusive power is primarily the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
The book is a good find and a good read, albeit a painful one.
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