By Angelynne Anne Alapag
(For Karen and Sherlyn, and their eight long years of struggle for justice)
“You’re already in UP. Get used to it.”
This was what one of my professors said when activists packed the campus with protests in 2010. I was a freshman then, starving for new ideas and experiences from what they call, the ‘most prestigious university in the Philippines’.
June 26. I can still remember the feeling of seeing a ‘picket’ for the first time—amazed yet curious. When we passed by them, I heard one shouted, “Hustisya para kay Karen at Sherlyn, at sa lahat ng biktima ng pagdukot!” Another cried, “Surface all desaparecidos!” I got interested, so I peeked on their placards and saw photos of two women smiling with their names below—KAREN EMPEÑO and SHERLYN CADAPAN.
Both were students of UP. Karen took BS Sociology, and used to be an active member of the youth group League of Filipino Students. Sherlyn was then a Human Kinetics student who got married to a farmer while working as a peasant organizer in Bulacan.
Yes. They were activists. But they suddenly ‘disappeared’.
Reports had showed various angles after the said incident on 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan. Some said it was a mere disappearance. Others thought they were kidnapped. If so, then who did?
Karen and Sherlyn were believed to be ‘abducted by state agents’ under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya, which was headed by Ret. Gen. Jovito Palparan. According to some witnesses, both were tortured, raped, and whacked while hogtied—all because they were organizers and defenders. Only because they were ACTIVISTS.
The state had been the oppressors’ gameboard on preserving the present circumstance encountered by majority of the Filipinos today—landlessness, low wage rate, miseducation, and backward industry, which led to the chronic poverty and crisis nationwide. These conditions gave birth to millions of organized activists and masses, who eventually sought for genuine freedom thru armed and parliamentary struggle.
During the nine bloody years of the US-Arroyo regime, hundreds disappeared in action, threatened & harassed, and displaced from their lands & communities. Also, thousands were mercilessly killed by military men thru its counterinsurgency campaign Oplan Bantay Laya. When it changed its name to Oplan Bayanihan under Noynoy Aquino’s presidency, 192 more were slain and 21 more disappeared.
Karen and Sherlyn are just part of the whole container of activists abducted and killed. Still, justice remains elusive for them. The past eight years had only proven the persisting state of impunity in the Philippines.
Given on the human rights situation in Philippines, activists perhaps had a second thought on joining the ‘movement’. Karen and Sherlyn surely did, too. But what’s astonishing was their strong drive to serve the people amid the intensified militarization and bloating number of HRVs in the countrysides and cities.
UP students should have been more inspired than scared though, for according to the same professor [above], “the true essence of being a Iskolar ng Bayan lies on how one practices his education outside the four corners of his classrooms.” We would’ve not been called Iskolar ng Bayan then.
Amid hundreds of placards and posters posted in bulletin boards, plenty of candles lighted to spell their names, and countless demands to surface them and to make the fascist regime accountable of their disappearance were the hundreds of youth and students who had risen to take up the same ideology and continue the struggle that Karen and Sherlyn had waged.
On the 26th, Karen and Sherlyn will be remembered again. Honestly, most students had prayed for them to be dead than to live a horrible life with those evil soldiers.
It takes a lot of courage to ask, but requires more to know the answer. Eight years of seeking had never been easy for the families, friends and the movement. When I entered the movement, I also asked when victory is for Karen and Sherlyn. The answer was absurd.
But I guess it will forever be, unless we act.
Angelynne Anne Alapag is an anthropology student from the University of thePhilippines Mindanao and current spokesperson of AnakBayan Southern Mindanao.