It is exactly 3,650 days today since six contractual workers of PICOP Resources Inc. were seen alive before they disappeared that fateful night of October 14, 2000. The six workers collectively known as PICOP 6 were Joseph Belar, Jovencio Lagare, Romualdo Orcullo, Diosdado Oliver, Artemio Ayala Jr. and Arnold Dangkiasan. They were abducted by members of the Philippine Army’s 62ndInfantry Battalion headed by Corporal Rodrigo Billiones, then based in Sta. Maria, Trento, Agusan del Sur.
Thus, this day on the tenth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of the PICOP 6 workers, their families join the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) and Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) in urging the Pres. Benigno Aquino III to formulate and fully implement a human rights agenda that will prevent if not end enforced disappearance and other human rights violations.
As a general principle, a victim of enforced disappearance cannot be presumed dead until his/her remains are found.
“Ten long years is a great burden to the relatives of the six workers who up to now are seeking justice and the truth about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones,” said Max de Mesa, Chairperson of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA).
The enforced disappearance of the six workers has caused “deep anguish and sorrow” to their respective families, a suffering that is equivalent to torture. The restriction of the right to know the truth prolongs the agony suffered by the victims’ relatives who are endlessly caught between hope and despair.
“The decade-long impunity against the six PICOP workers is a challenge and a litmus test to the sincerity and determination of P-Noy as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forced of the Philippines (AFP), to end enforced disappearances in calling for an AFP Human Rights Summit and for the Truth Commission to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of PICOP 6,” de Mesa emphasized.
“Like the case of the PICOP 6 and disappearance of Jonas Burgos, it is vital to draw more attention to the issue of enforced disappearances as its occurrence has remained unabated in the country,” de Mesa said.
Wilma Q. Tizon, FIND Secretary-General, stressed that enforced disappearance is among if not the worst form of human rights violation ever practiced and is considered a crime against humanity.
“The Truth Commission created by P-Noy to shed light on past human rights violations under GMA should also include the case of the PICOP 6 workers,” Tizon stressed. “Irrespective of any legal andadministrative proceedings, the families have the right to know the truth surrounding the disappearance of their loved ones.”
Tizon added that exposing this truth to our society should prompt our government to undertake concrete measures that would deter recurrence of enforced disappearance cases and other forms human rights violations.
The immediate enactment of an anti-enforced disappearance law and, the signing and ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance are vital steps to bring perpetrators to justice that could prevent and eradicate enforced disappearances.
House Bill No. 98 introduced by Hon. Edcel C. Lagman when enacted into law will criminalize the act of enforced disappearance. It describes enforced or involuntary disappearance as “a continuing menace to civil liberties and mocks the sanctity and inviolability of human life. It violates not only the right to liberty and security of person, the rights against “torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation…, secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado or other forms of similar detention”, which are guaranteed by the Constitution, but practically all human rights especially the right to life.” Among others, the bill seeks to impose penalties for its commission.
“These concrete steps will bolster the hopes and the demands of the victims and their families for truth and justice” Tizon concluded.-end-
Max de Mesa, PAHRA, 0920-9080480
Wilma Q. Tizon, FIND, 0916-5643081