Mayo 5, 2007

Phl - 'Disappeared' Activist Lives to Tell Her Tale

Stella Gonzales

MANILA, May 4 (IPS) - Lourdes Rubrico could easily have been an added statistic to the growing list of Filipino activists who have been abducted by suspected agents of the government and were never heard of again

Rubrico fits the profile of scores of people listed as 'disappeared'. She was an active urban poor community leader and had been involved in community organising for the past two decades. On April 3, the 63-year-old was abducted by what human rights groups believe were military men. A frantic search for her and requests for police assistance yielded negative results. Her case was listed by rights groups as one of "enforced disappearance".

Then seven days later, she was released unharmed by her captors for reasons still unclear to her. Her abduction, however, was just a portent of the ordeal that she and her family would be going through.

On Apr. 23, days after Rubrico talked to the media about her abduction and after she filed a formal complaint, a group of hooded men in camouflage uniforms and armed with handguns scoured the neighbourhood searching for her daughter. (During her captivity, Rubrico's captors had threatened her that they would go after one of her four children if something went wrong.)

Rubrico and her children now fear for their lives. They cannot go home and are on the run from people trying to hunt them down. "We are like wild boars. We are forced to hide," Rubrico told IPS in an interview in a coffee shop in a crowded mall in Metro Manila.

In her account, Rubrico had just attended a "pabasa" (a traditional reading of the Passion of Christ that is held during Lent) on the afternoon of Apr. 3 and was resting in a shelter in Dasmariñas town, Cavite province just south of Manila when three men in plainclothes alighted from a van. The men, who claimed to be agents of the National Bureau of Investigation, said they were "inviting" Rubrico for questioning. They had no identification cards and could not present an arrest warrant when Rubrico demanded one.

They forced Rubrico into their van and then blindfolded her. One of the men apologised and told her they were just doing their job. Another assured her there was nothing to worry about: "We will not harm you."

After a journey of about four hours, Rubrico was told to get off the vehicle. "I was frightened. I thought they were going to kill me. They were taking me to a grassy place. I could feel the grass under my feet as I walked," Rubrico told IPS. Her captors took her to a room and then removed her blindfold. Someone greeted her: "Welcome, Nay Ude." (Nay Ude is Rubrico's nickname. Nay is short for "nanay," or mother.) One man, who would be her principal interrogator for the days to come, accused her of being a member of the communist New People's Army (NPA). But she answered back that she was too old to be a member of the NPA.

"I am only the president of an organisation," she told him. The man said her organisation would not have lasted long without the backing of the NPA. Then he rattled off names and showed her pictures of people, but Rubrico said she did not know any of them. "Our organisation is even registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission," she said, referring to her group Ugnayan ng mga Maralita sa Gawa at Adhika (Association of the Poor in Action and Aspiration). "They even know of us at the (Damariñas) municipal hall."

The interrogation went on for seven days, Rubrico said. Her captors allowed her to rest and gave her food because, they told her, they did not want to be accused of violating her human rights. They also gave her a change of clothes and told her to take a bath.

In the meantime, Rubrico's son, who was searching for her, was told by the local police not to worry about his mother. He told IPS that one police officer even assured him that his mother had been clothes, slippers and anti-asthma medicine. This bolstered the family's belief that the police had knowledge about the military-led abduction.

Rubrico said there were times when her captors would argue about what they should do to her. Some said they should just dig a grave and kill her, but others were insistent that she was a good person and should not be harmed. On the seventh day of her captivity, they offered Rubrico a deal: she would be released if she agreed to become their "asset" (informer). They gave her a document to sign and took her picture with a sign identifying her as "deputy secretary general urban committee," (apparently of the NPA). When Rubrico protested, her captors told her to take it easy: "We just want a remembrance."

Finally, they left her alone in the room and told her to rest. Rubrico said the room appeared to be an office. It had a table and two chairs. There was a window near the ceiling and she could see trees outside. There were times when she could hear children's voices, planes and vehicles.

Sensing that her captors outside the room were asleep, Rubrico rifled through the drawers. She deduced from documents she found that she was being held at the Fernando Air Force Base in Batangas province. (This would become the basis of her complaint later.) It was dark when Rubrico was once more blindfolded and then taken to a vehicle by her captors. They dropped her off outside a mall in Cavite and gave her 200 pesos (four US dollars) for her fare home.

Rubrico said she does not know why her captors spared her life. But during her interrogation, she said, she kept telling them about the Bill of Rights. She said she was also insistent that her organisation was legally recognised and that its members go through the legal process when fighting for their rights.

Several times she asked them when they planned to release her. "I know that when you abduct people, you kill them," she had told them. "So when do you plan to kill me?" But her captors would tell her that they would not kill her because they, too, have mothers.

When IPS interviewed Rubrico a few days after armed men went to their neighbourhood to search for her daughter, there was rage in the urban poor leader's eyes. "I am angry because I know we won't win the case," she said, referring to a complaint she filed on April 20 against her abductors before the military ombudsman.

After being released, Rubrico did not seek police assistance because she believes they colluded with her military captors.

Just after Rubrico's abduction, one daughter and two other eyewitnesses were brought by policemen to an isolated place where a police sketch artist supposedly lived. The three, fearing they might be liquidated instead, sent mobile phone text messages to their families and friends who were able to take the witnesses back from the police.

And on the night she was released, Rubrico said, their vehicle was stopped at three checkpoints but her captors merely paid off those who were manning them. "We have nobody to run to, not even the police," Rubrico said.

The human rights group Families of Desaperecidos for Justice said "the motive, the resources, and the manner by which (Rubrico) was abducted, interrogated and illegally detained, all point to the military as the perpetrators." It called on the government to surface all those who have been abducted, believing that many are being detained, interrogated and tortured in military camps, detachments and so-called safe houses. It said most of the victims were activists and supporters of groups which the government of President Gloria Arroyo had marked as "enemies of the state''.

According to the rights group Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND), there have been 188 cases of "disappearances" in the country since 2001, the year Arroyo assumed the presidency. Of this figure, 81 have surfaced alive while 17 were found dead. The rest are still missing. (END/2007)

Posted by marga at Mayo 5, 2007 4:32 PM | TrackBack
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