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BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said on Friday, May 12, that it is investigating the disappearance of Cordillera activists Dexter Capuyan and Gene Roz Jamil de Jesus.
“CHR, through its regional office in IV-A, is conducting an investigation following the petition of one victim’s family member and online allegations that the two are under the custody of state security units,” the CHR said in the statement.
The CHR urged law enforcers to “maximize and exhaust all efforts in the search.” The commission also called on witnesses and those with information that may lead to locating the two to coordinate with them or the investigators.
In a May 10 press conference, the search party, composed of human rights organizations, said armed men who introduced themselves as Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) operatives forcibly took the two in Taytay, Rizal, on April 28. However, several state security forces and intelligence units based in Rizal denied having Capuyan and De Jesus in their custody.
On the same day, the mothers of Capuyan and De Jesus submitted a letter to the Police Regional Office Cordillera (PROCOR) asking for assistance in locating their sons. They also inquired if the police in the region or any of its units were holding the two. PROCOR assured the families they would help in the search but denied having them in custody.
De Jesus, 27, is the information and networking officer of the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples, while law enforcement agencies accused the 57-year-old Capuyan of being a ranking communist rebel leader in the Ilocos and Cordillera regions with a P1.85 million bounty.
Both were student leaders at the University of the Philippines Baguio: Capuyan was the editor-in-chief of the student publication and chairperson of the city-wide chapter of the League of Filipino Students while De Jesus was chairperson of the Alliance of Concerned Students and the UP Baguio Council of Leaders.
Part of the commission’s mandate to protect human rights is to look into suspected arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of liberty, which includes illegal arrest, detention, or abduction. These acts are prohibited and punishable under Republic Act No. 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.
“We harp again our call for the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to ensure that there is a legal standard for this individual right that can withstand the political dynamics of government, change of leadership, or policies,” CHR said.
“This latest case of ‘desaparecidos’ manifests the continuing vulnerability of activists to involuntary disappearance and its other possible implications, such as illegal detention, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” the commission added.
The CHR also urged the government for “concrete protection of activists and human rights defenders.”
Calls from family, friends, and organizations to surface Capuyan and De Jesus continue to mount, with support coming from as far as Italy, where the parents of De Jesus work.
UP Baguio Batch 2012, where De Jesus belongs, vowed to continue searching until they locate their classmate. They also demanded that authorities to investigate the incident and ensure that De Jesus could return home safely.
“We strongly condemn any act of violence or intimidation toward individuals who speak out and fight for what they believe in,” the batch statement read.
The UP Baguio employees’ union also raised concern over the safety of the two. The UP Baguio Crisis Committee is also looking into the matter.
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Watch Italy joined calls for the immediate surfacing of De Jesus and Capuyan.
Rhoderick Ramos Ople, president of OFW Watch Italy, appealed to the public for help. He said as an organization that defends the rights, welfare, and protection of migrant workers, De Jesus’ path in defense of indigenous peoples is close to their hearts.
“It is a path less taken. A dignified vocation, selfless, humble, and does not wait for a reward,” he stated. – Rappler.com