The battle’s not over for mothers of desaparecidos
MANILA, Philippines - If Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, both students of the University of the Philippines Diliman, were not abducted by the military in Bulacan in the wee hours of June 26, 2006 – 10 years ago – their mothers would have led a different life.
But Karen and Sherlyn were abducted and never came back. (READ: 2 UP students still missing after 7 years)
Since then, Concepcion Empeño and Linda Cadapan, mothers of Karen and She, respectively, have become the staple faces of forums and gatherings calling for the government to stop and resolve enforced disappearances. (READ: It's a first in Asia: 'Desaparecidos' law)
"I didn’t dream to be an activist. But I became a human rights advocate and defender because of what happened. We usually attend programs, forums, press conferences where we are invited," Concepcion said in a phone interview.
A 66-year-old retired school principal, Concepcion contemplated, "I was passive back then. I was insensitive. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t care. But when Karen disappeared, I internalized the things that she was fighting for, that she was fighting for the Filipinos especially those who are poor."
Throughout the years, the mother of Karen has gone to various countries in Europe, such as France, United Kingdom and The Netherlands, through the help of Amnesty International, an international human rights organization, to talk about Karen’s disappearance and to seek the help of the United Nations.
Meanwhile, Linda, Sherlyn's mother, couldn’t count exactly how many interviews she granted over the years.
Asked if she never gets tired of saying the same things over and over, Linda said in a separate phone interview, "The interviews can be of help in making public our calls for justice for Karen and She. It hurts during interviews whenever we would again recall everything. But if one day, because of these interviews, someone would see She and would relay us the information, then that’s okay."
Aftermath of the abduction
In a barangay in Hagonoy, Bulacan, witnesses said that UP students Karen and Sherlyn were kidnapped by the military forces in June 2006. Karen was 22 and a graduating sociology student studying the lives of Bulacan farmers for her thesis. Sherlyn, on the other hand, was 28 and a community organizer for a farmers’ group.
Concepcion found out about her daughter’s abduction the next day through Karen’s friend in UP. But she did not expect that she would disappear for so long.
"I thought she would be found immediately, that she wouldn’t be brought to far places. But that wasn’t the case. It took 10 years. We were left hanging, I didn’t know what happened," Concepcion said.
On her part, Linda did not believe at first that the military would do such a thing. Whe she did later, it was too late.
"I lived in the headquarters of KARAPATAN for more than one month during my first year of searching for Sherlyn. I would see sons and daughters, fathers, grandparents, going to the office, asking for their missing loved one. A guy that I was with, he recalled having a gun pointed at him when they took his child. There I was exposed on what was really happening," she shared.
The 67-year old Linda added that the disappearance of her daughter a decade ago has made her restless.
"My life should be comfortable by now, I’m no longer suffering, and I can do whatever I want. If I want to rest and not work for a living, then I could," she said.
What could have been
Concepcion said that if Karen had not been abducted, she would have celebrated the appointment of her former professor, incoming secretary Judy Taguiwalo, to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
"Karen would be working by now because she was already graduating by the time she was kidnapped. Maybe she would be in DSWD doing social work," Concepcion said happily.
Linda had the same opinion of her daughter, believing she would also be helpful to the poor.
"If She were with us, I’m sure she will be a diligent worker. It's part of her personality to always help those in need," Linda said.
Karen and She, had they not disappeared, would have been 32 and 38 by now.
For every single interview, the word ‘desaparecido’ has become an everyday vocabulary for the mothers of Karen and She.
Concepcion said she never heard of the word until her daughter became one, and that hearing the word, “tears me up."
Meanwhile, Linda, who claims she had not been involved in political issues even when she was an undergraduate in UP Los Banos, said the word ‘desaparecido’ meant so much more than Karen and She.
"When I hear the word ‘desap,' I would remember not only Sherlyn or Karen, but others who are missing as well. They are many. And it’s heartbreaking that there are events like this where the culprits are people who are supposed to protect its citizens," she explained.
June, the anniversary month of Karen and She’s disappearance, has made these mothers of desaparecidos in demand again in events that commemorate their abduction. On Friday, June 24, Concepcion and Linda attended a mobilization led by progressive groups in UP Diliman to call for the surfacing of desaparecidos. There will be another event of the same nature on June 29 in the campus.
Another hearing of the case against retired army general Jovito Palparan, the alleged mastermind of the abduction, is also set on July 14. (READ: The most wanted man in the country)
When asked if they ever lost hope, a mother’s answer will always be no.
"Some people say ‘Linda, let’s just leave it to God.' But for me, even if we pray it to God that she comes back, if we don’t do anything, nothing will happen. It is important that we act and do something," she concluded. – Rappler.com
Dwight De Leon is the president of DZUP Radio Circle, the official student organization arm of UP Diliman’s official AM radio station, DZUP 1602. He is currently an intern for Rappler.