UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno have been missing for five WHOLE days now. they were abducted along with 53-year-old Manuel Merino, a local farmer, last June 26 in Hagonoy, Bulacan by 15 bonneted, armed men who introduced themselves as ‘vigilantes.’
They were abducted five days ago, and I shiver at the horror of what may or has become of them for every minute that they remain missing and incommunicado.
The new breed of activists in UP were immediately aghast when they found out about Karen but they barely know Sherlyn. This is because immediately after her stint as College of Human Kinetics Rep. in the UP Univeristy Student Council, Sherlyn decided to become a full-time community organizer in Tungkong Mangga (where we usually had our community integration trips way back).
But some of us remember her as a typical kalog colegiala, despite her athletic built (she was an award-winning tri-athlete for the UP Varsity and was actually awarded a scholarship in UP because of her prowess). Years ago, we used to laugh at the ‘rumor’ (maybe it’s true, or maybe just an urban legend) that she was Nancy Navalta’s 1st runner-up in the competition where Navalta’s medal was retracted because ‘she’ was actually a ‘he’. I, for one, remember her fondly for never failing to crack up our ‘tambay hours’ in Vinzons with her ‘Sherlyn-Cadapan-dance-step.’ I last saw her during a Lakbayan rally about a year or two ago. She seemed happy and content to be living with the farmers and community folks in Central Luzon.
The fact sheet on their disappearance did not mention her being pregnant. Most of us did not even know that she got married, or that her work got her transferred to Hagonoy. But she IS pregnant and only monsters will have the gall to hurt, injure or as much as lay a hand on her and her unborn baby. #%&%% silang lahat, subukan lang nila!
Karen’s case, on the other hand, hit me with a sense of deja vu. I vividly remember when a close friend of mine suffered the same fate.
My friend was also a UP student doing research for a poetry book in Isabela. She got caught in a crossfire between rebels and military forces, mistaken for an NPA, got arrested and was held incommunicado for a week. The military in Isabela apparently had no intention of allowing her her right to contact a family member or anyone and had every intention of letting her rot in jail for all eternity. One day while still in detention, she pretended to ask permission to go to the toilet and quickly formed a beeline to the pay phone booth outside her cell. That was when she finally got to call her neighbors’ house in Manila. All her orgmates, teachers, classmates, co-editors, co-writers, co-artists got together to condemn her arrest. UP President Nemenzo even asked for her custody but was denied. She was later on released on bail and charges against her were eventually dropped for lack of sufficient evidence.
The grim difference of her case and Karen’s, however, is that the present military and the government is currently out to ‘annihilate’ not only the NPA rebels but any warm-blooded, progressive, nationalist individual who has taken the cudgels for truth and democracy (read: anti-Gloria).
Worse, Karen, Sherlyn and Manuel were abducted in a Central Luzon, where the devil-incarnate Gen. Jovito Palparan is presently designated. Palparan who transformed Mindoro into a killing field, Samar into a ghost town. Palparan who boastfully declared that the Philippines will be ‘Red-free’ by the time he retires this September. Palparan who human rights activists and advocates aptly call “The Butcher.”
I read a news article this evening with a statement from Palparan saying that they (the victims) are better off gone because they have allegedly been extorting money from the townsfolk. Assuming for the sake of argument that this was true, it still does NOT justify that the three were unarmed, defenseless and were arrested despite not being engaged in actual combat. Their arrest and continued ‘forced disappearance’ violate ALL existing international humanitarian laws and due process. Even NPA and military fighters caught alive by opposing parties during combat have the right to treated humanely as prisoners of war (unfortunately a principle being practiced and respected solely by the NPA in past incidents).
But NPAs Sherlyn and Karen are NOT. Extortionists? Very highly unlikely. They are simply student activists who chose to make their lives more meaningful by actually living what they learned outside the auspices of UP.
Karen’s teachers in UP profess that she was in Hagonoy doing research for her thesis. According to her teacher Ms. Jonabelle Asis, an Instructor from the UP Dept. of Sociology, “Dahil habang ang karamihan sa akademya ay pinipili para sa kanilang thesis ang mga mas “safe” na paksa tulad ng identity, sexuality, citizenship at kung anu-ano pang chorva, mas pinili niyang mag-engage sa usaping mas mahalaga at napapanahon — ang usapin ng mga magsasaka.”
“Pumunta siya sa Bulacan upang manaliksik ukol sa kalagayan ng mga magsasaka roon. Dahil sa mga panahong tulad nito, ang mga intelektwal, lalo na tayong mga iskolar ng bayan, ay dapat pumusisyon. Dahil sa totoong mundo, ang mga tunay na nakagagagap sa reyalidad ay ang mga taong ginigipit ng pamahalaan.” ###