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Enforced disappearances in the Philippines: A mother speaks

Her voice does not quiver but her eyes cannot conceal the pain.

After all, on this cold rainy morning, she is sitting in the same room with members of the military, the very same institution accused of the abduction of her daughter.

She is speaking about her search for her missing 26 year-old daughter and that fervent yearning to see her again, to hold her, to embrace her. She is talking about the agony of years of searching and not knowing when and if she will ever see her girl again.

She is old and lanky; her skin is sun-roasted and wrinkled, but her courage is unwavering.

Meet Erlinda ‘Linda’ Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn Cadapan, a student from the University of the Philippines, the country’s premier state-owned university.

Sherlyn went missing in 2006 somewhere in the province of Bulacan, in the northern part of the country.

The story of Sherlyn Cadapan is a painful one, as are most stories of enforced disappearances. Sherlyn is suspected to be a member of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Mothers Erlinda Cadapan and Concepcion Empeno tirelessly call for justice for their missing daughters. Photo Angelica Carballo.

Linda Cadapan’s struggle has been a tedious one. It continues to be so. The case is pending in court and the legal battle between the Cadapan family and the military has been long and laborious.

‘Up to this very moment, my daughter is still missing,’ Cadapan says.

The military vehemently denies having custody of Sherlyn, yet witnesses have testified in court that the missing student was seen alive in military camps. Tortured and repeatedly raped.

There is nothing more painful for a mother to hear than such gory stories about a missing daughter.

To the members of the military, Cadapan says: ‘I hope you can tell me where she is and I hope I can see her again.’

I meet Linda Capadan at a press launch of a project about extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and enforced disappearances. Dubbed as the Target Extra Judicial Killings (EJK) and Enforced Disappearances in the Philippines project, the initiative is funded by the international media NGO, Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

Cadapan welcomes the project, saying that there is a pressing need for it in the light of the continued prevalence of enforced disappearances in the Philippines, citing her very own experience as a mother of a missing student activist.

Erlinda Cadapan at the press launch of the Target EJK project. Photo Jes Aznar.

The project aims to build consensus on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines, which continue to be a deeply divisive and contested issue, IWPR says.

Furthermore, according to IWPR, human-rights activists, trade union officials, leftist politicians, journalists and land reform advocates comprise the vast majority of victims.

At the same time, IWPR says, soldiers, police officers and members of the militia are also being targeted.

Brigadier General Jose Mabanta, military spokesperson. Photo Jes Aznar.

Amid such complexities, the Target EJK project aims to ‘universalize the issue showing it as a critical issue that unites rather than divides’.

Cadapan is keeping her fingers crossed that the initiative will go a long way in winning the struggle to end enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

‘I hope IWPR can help me in my search for my daughter,’ says Cadapan in a fervent voice.

Somewhere out there, perhaps in a windowless cell, in a military camp, in an abandoned lot or in an indescribable place that she does not want to be in, is Sherlyn, waiting to go home.

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