It was between the years 1976 and 1983 in Argentina when the world first came to witness the term Desaparecidos, or the Disappeared. It was in this dark era of tyrannical right-wing rule where 11,000 lives were mysteriously but systematically erased from the annals of history, signified by green Ford Falcon cars piloted by uniformed men, rounding up countless victims labelled by the Argentine Military Government as leftist rebels, destabilizers and terrorists. To then Argentine junta ruler General Jourge Videla, it was known as “The Process of National Reorganization”; To Adolf Hitler, it was the “Final Solution”. No matter what phrase was used by totalitarian leaders to describe these internal purges, the characteristic remain the same: silently and methodically ruthless.
More than two decades after this 7-year witch hunt was exposed to international criticism, in this time when the popular notion of the prevalence of democracy has ingrained itself in the minds of men, such inhumane repression still continues, in ways strikingly similar to Argentina’s experience. Look no place further than ironically the first democracy in Southeast Asia, the Philippines. Veiled by the curtains of rose-stained UN reports and farcical human rights medals bestowed upon our head of state Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the statistics scream of a different story, where over 900 extra-judicial killings and almost 200 enforced disappearances have been committed under the current regime. More striking is these numbers being even higher than those from the 4 administrations previous to GMA’s reign combined, including the figures of former Dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ regime.
Albeit democracy requires regulation to uphold the rule of law unless we degenerate into something as chaotic as anarchy, it is disturbing to see how the rule of law only applies to the moneyed and landed few. Mass slaughters committed by military forces in the countryside go unpunished, and generals that enforce these deeds like Jovito Palparan in turn get promoted and acclaimed. Anyone related to these victims, in turn, remain powerless in the courts that only answer to the call of money, even amidst the Writ of Amparo and the intensified campaigns of human rights watchdogs.
The crumble of the Argentine Junta’s internal crackdown began on the afternoon of Saturday, April 13 of the year 1977, when a small demonstration of 14 women whose families fell victim to the reorganization, led by Hebe Bonafini and Adela Antokaletz, began a solemn walk in Plaza de Mayo outside the Argentine rulers’ residence, Casa Rosada. The years passed, and even in the face of clubbing, tear gassings and arrests, their ranks continued to grow and march around the Plaza. The mothers revealed the decrepit state of Argentine democracy to the whole world, and after years of incompetent governance and with the failed Falkland war, the junta rule crumbled and democracy was restored.
Today, the Philippines is host to essentially a same crusade, led by the mothers of UP students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, among others. This struggle to surface the disappeared, 2 years and counting for the students, proves the anarchistic nature of Philippine democracy, concretizing the reality of the prevailing dictatorship of the ruling bourgeoisie we have in our society. Argentina has verified that the iron hand of dictators can be undermined only by the collective action of the masses, and it is in this conviction that the Filipino people should collectively struggle to make the regime of GMA be held accountable for its sins to the people.
Until then, Karen and She, whether dead or alive, remain in limbo. Do we wait for those dear to our hearts to follow in their plight before we realize the desperate need to stop these killings and disappearings?