Taking sides

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

ONE can only feel pain for the mothers of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, the two UP students who are now well into their 8th year as desaparacidos. There must be no day when Mama Connie and Erlinda’s thoughts fly to their missing daughters and endure the weight of their loss/lost.

This forward slash that conjoins feelings of uncertainty and bereavement tell of the painful situation of these mothers of the disappeared. The fact that their daughters are still not found provides them with a cruel hope that they are just somewhere, lost between the cracks of the narratives of torture and death.

It is a situation that cannot be named for no human words have been invented for it as of yet. And it is just right that language has not caught up with these realities for these have no place in the realm of what can be considered as humane.


The case of the daughters has been well documented. Court records show while working as volunteers for a farmer’s organization in Bulacan, the two were abducted at gunpoint by armed men and forcibly taken to board a vehicle. It was later determined that it was a military service vehicle after it was found inside a military camp.

This and the first hand testimony of farmer Raymond Manalo, whose gruesome account of the incarceration and torture of the two students in a military camp was upheld by the Supreme Court in a May 31, 2011 decision, leave little doubt that the two were abducted by the military under General “The Butcher” Palparan’s anti-insurgency directive.

What is revealed by Manalo’s testimony is that the two remained in the hands of the military for a year under extreme duress. They were chained to their beds at night and made to wash soldier’s clothes during the day. There are more details that I would rather not reveal for I still cannot come to terms with the horrors that state forces inflicted on the two young women. But reading the accounts pained me and seared my heart. After Manalo’s escape sometime in August 2007, there had been no news about the two.

To this day, I still flinch reading accounts from witnesses and court records about what happened to Karen and Sherlyn after they were taken in Hagonoy that fateful early morning of the 26th of June 2006. But I had to know, in the same way that the mothers had to face these painful truths in the course of their search for their daughters.

What kind of bloodlust drives these mad acts to our nation’s daughters, one is forced to ask? Some quarters also flinch before this kind of violence but instead of understanding the wherefores, they recourse to wishing these away. They argue that violence begets violence and lament over the two as victims of the endless bloodletting that has bathe this republic centuries after its birth. They share the sense of scandal but not to the extent of taking sides.

But the story of the two UP missing students is a challenge to this position. Precisely because the two chose sides that is why such fate befell them. They chose to be on the side of the oppressed peasants in their fight for land and justice. They chose to live the ideals of the university where they came from. By making that choice, they knew that they were courting the mad anger of the State and suffered because of it.

Many years later, after these facts have been revealed, I bristle at the thought that while Karen and She were living their nightmares for a year, some sectors of UP decided to launch their own witch-hunts against colleagues who they identify as guilty forces in the supposed radicalization of the two students. It is a revelation that those who supposedly espouse neutrality and non-violence are equally capable of swinging the bureaucratic powers at their disposal to defend the violence of the status quo.

The loss/lost status of their daughters have taught the mothers of the disappeared to understand the wherefores of social violence in this nation and they have since taken sides. Today, there are seen in the streets on the side of the victims of desaparacidos and extra-judicial killings, the same ranks their daughters stood with. As for me, it wasn’t the case that I radicalized Karen and She, former students of mine. With their brave choices and sacrifices under the hands of the State’s war machine, they radicalized me instead.


(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 01, 2014.


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