‘Desaparecido’ | Inquirer Opinion


For the first time in Philippine cinema, three short films about victims of enforced disappearance were produced by the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (Afad) and Dakila-Collective for Modern Heroism under the CHR-Aecid Fortaleza Project. “Walang Paalam” (No Goodbye) was premiered at the UP Film Center on Feb. 26, a day after the 29th anniversary of the 1986 Edsa People Power uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

The four-day protest by multitudes rejecting the Marcos regime was not that spontaneous as it was in fact the culmination of long years of pocket resistance to martial rule in the countryside and urban centers as well as the picket lines of indignant and courageous strikers. It was sanctified and ennobled by the blood and tears of common folk who sacrificed life and liberty to pave the way for Filipinos to regain democracy at Edsa.


“Walang Paalam” features the three kinds of desaparecido: forcibly disappeared but surfaced alive (“Porferia”); disappeared and found dead (“Celio”); and continuing disappearance (“Hermon”).

“Porferia” narrates the story of Porferia Acuram, a church-based volunteer worker then on her third trimester of pregnancy, and her husband who were apprehended on July 19, 1989, in Misamis Occidental by the military on suspicion of collaborating with the New People’s Army. They were detained incommunicado, tortured and ordered to dig their common grave. The spouses maintained their innocence despite the brutality of their captors. They were rescued through the help of the community and the intercession of a local lawyer.


“Celio” is principally based on the mass abduction, torture and killing of farmers suspected as rebels in the 1980s in Zamboanga del Sur. It is a gripping story of a father whose son, a fresh high school graduate, was abducted by military elements together with numerous farmers of Tigbao and buried in unknown graves. In April 2001 Mang Celio reportedly helped FIND dig and identify the remains ofhis son, which were exhumed together with those of 11 other victims.

“Hermon” tells of the tragic struggle of young lawyer Hermon C. Lagman, whose militant advocacy helped workers demand their rights not only through legal processes but more importantly by mass action. He banded with the workers and together they fought for justice and the emancipation of the working class. In open defiance of the martial law strike ban, he spearheaded the strikes in La Tondeña Inc., Mead Johnson-Bristol Group of Companies, Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co., and Solid Mills in 1975 and 1976.

For his resolute crusade to promote and protect workers’ rights, Lagman was taken by state agents on May 11, 1977, on Edsa. He remains missing after 38 years, six years more than his age of 32 at the time of his disappearance. “Hermon” also highlights the continuing torment of families, particularly the victim’s mother who endlessly grieves for her missing son and in her old age imagines that he would still reappear.

Enforced disappearances escalated to 882 documented incidents during martial law and did not taper off during the Cory Aquino presidency, which had 825 recorded cases. There were 94 cases during the Ramos administration; 58, Estrada; 340, Arroyo; and 25, the incumbent.

Verily, repression of dissent is endemic to all regimes. The state’s violation of liberty, freedom of association and free expression by enforced disappearance is both global and rooted in antiquity.

Persia had the “eyes and ears of the King” (Gli occhi e le orecchie del re), Spartans employed a secret police known as “Krypteia,” while the Roman Empire under Nero had the Praetorian Guards.

The Spanish term desaparecido, meaning “disappeared people,” refers to victims of state terrorism in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s. In the infamous “death flights” in Chile and Argentina, particularly during Operation Condor by the military juntas, the victims’ bodies were jettisoned from airplanes into the sea.


To end the impunity unabashedly enjoyed by perpetrators, Republic Act No. 10353 was enacted on Dec. 21, 2012, to penalize enforced disappearance as a separate offense distinct from kidnapping, arbitrary detention, murder and other common crimes. It lists three elements of the crime: 1) any form of deprivation of liberty of the victim by agents of the state or their privies; 2) refusal to admit the deprivation of liberty or concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the victim; and 3) placing the victim outside the protection of the law. RA 10353, which also facilitates the identification and prosecution of offenders, is the first in Asia and has been hailed as a model legislation.

A companion law, which also originated from the House of Representatives, is RA 10368 providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime. Highest priority for compensation is given to victims of enforced disappearance, which is acknowledged as the worst kind of human rights violation.

The vast majority of the victims of enforced disappearance are farmers and workers. This is symptomatic of the correlation between economic inequity and the perpetration of involuntary disappearance. Mass poverty impels marginalized, oppressed, but politicized farmers and workers to voice their grievances against government, and even to rebel. Under the guise of a counterinsurgency campaign, the military and police resort to abduction, torture and extrajudicial killing to quell dissent and quiet discontent.

But the right to dissent is ascendant to the fear of repression. And so the tug-of-war continues. This will only end with the economic deliverance of the masses from the clutches of poverty and the fringes of despair.

Edcel C. Lagman is a former representative of the first district of Albay.

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TAGS: Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, CHR-Aecid Fortaleza Project, Dakila-Collective for Modern Heroism, desaparecidos, families of victims of involuntary disappearance
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