Groups dare gov’t: Solve 10-year-old case of disappeared PICOP workers

On the anniversary of the mysterious disappearance on October 14, 2000, of six workers of the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) Resources, Inc. inAgusan del Surhuman rights groups, once again, dared the government to solve the decade-old case.

“It is exactly 3,650 days today since six contractual workers of the PICOP were last seen alive before they disappeared that fateful night of October 14. As we, once again, urge the government to end impunity that led to enforced disappearances, we also ask President Aquino to order the Truth Commission to solve the case,” said Max de Mesa, chairperson of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), in a statement.

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 62nd Infantry Battalion headed by Corporal Rodrigo Billiones, then based in Sta. Maria, Trento, Agusan del Sur, according to a blog entry of veteran journalist Ellen Tordicillas. 

“On this day, the families of the six workers join the PAHRA, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) and Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) in urging the President Aquino to formulate and fully implement a human rights agenda that will prevent if not end enforced disappearance and otherhuman rights violations,” De Mesa said. 

As a general principle, a victim of enforced disappearance cannot be presumed dead until his/her remains are found, De Mesa said. 

“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,” De Mesa added.

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 PICOP 6 case is a challenge to the sincerity and determination of P-Noy as chief executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forced of the Philippines (AFP),” De Mesa said.

To end enforced disappearances, De Mesa urged Aquino to call for an AFP human rights summit and for the Truth Commission to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of PICOP 6.

“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,” he said.

Wilma 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 the Gloria Mcapagal-Arroyo administration should also include the case of the PICOP 6 workers,” Tizon said, adding that their families have the right to know the truth surrounding the disappearance of their loved ones.

Tizon said 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.

“These concrete steps will bolster the hopes and the demands of the victims and their families for truth and justice” Tizon said. — Jerbert Briola/LBG, GMANews.TV