By Janess Ann J. Ellao, Bulatlat -
Erlinda Cadapan and Concepcion Empeño sat as they listened to the program commemorating the enforced disappearance of their daughters Sherlyn and Karen, which was held at the University of the Philippines-Diliman Palma Hall steps, 5:00 p.m. June 26. As soon as they held out the photos of their daughters, some students stood up almost immediately and took photos of them using their smartphones and DSLRs.
For the past nine years, the “photo op” has been their “ministerial role,” as Empeño would put it – to stand and hold a photo of her daughter, chant for their surfacing as media take photos or videos of them.
Even during the early days of their search, she never felt uncomfortable no matter how remote the situation was to what they were used to. In fact, she would do it over and over again if it were the only way to spread the word that her daughter is missing and one day she would find her.
“Everything that was normal became the abnormal. And everything that was abnormal became our new normal,” Empeño told Bulatlat.com.
Sherlyn and Karen are University of the Philippines students who were abducted by soldiers on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan along with farmer Manuel Merino. They have been missing ever since.
Their enforced disappearance has radically altered the lives of their families. Empeño, a school principal, is almost always absent in school, while Cadapan, a mushroom grower, was forced to stop her livelihood as she needed to look for her daughter and attend various programs and protests. The search for her daughter has also taken a big toll on their lives.
Toll on health
Cadapan said she frequently gets sick nowadays.
“When I am not feeling well, I do not get checked anymore. Even if I get the doctor’s prescription, I do not have money to buy for my medicine,” she said.
Cadapan said in mushroom growing, mushrooms needed to be harvested every day. She harvested five to 10 kilos of oyster mushroom every day, worth P180 to P200 per kilo. At times, she was also invited as a trainer in mushroom growing.
“I got paid at least P20,000 for two weeks,” she said.
Despite the hardship, Cadapan said her family remains focused in finding her daughter. At times, however, she could not help but wonder how her daughter would react if she learned that she is not feeling well.
“She is very concerned about my health. She makes sure that I have what I need,” she recalled.
“It is my obligation to find my daughter. Even if I do not feel well, I still search for her,” she said.
Despite what it had cost them, Cadapan and Empeño, and their families never get tired. They find strength in the people who express support to their struggle.
Their search for the two missing students has led them from one military camp to another, and even abroad. Back in 2010, the two mothers traveled to several countries in Europe to talk about the human rights situation in the country and their relentless search for their daughters.
Empeño noted, “It was too bad that we were in beautiful places but for such a very sad cause.”
She remembered how a colleague noted how “lucky” she was to be given a “chance” to travel abroad and even asked how she can be a “member” of a human rights group.
“Go ahead and have your daughter abducted,” she remembered telling her colleague who replied, “Never mind! That’s scary.”
She gave a half-hearted laugh at the memory, shaking her head to the bittersweet irony of her life.
“May kurot sa dibdib yun joke na yun,” (That joke hurts.) she said.
Still an activist
If their daughters were not abducted nine years ago, both mothers agreed Sherlyn and Karen would still be the activists today.
Cadapan said there is a possibility that Sherlyn would be in the teaching profession. Before her abduction, she said her daughter was already thinking of teaching after getting the idea from a friend.
“But definitely an activist,” she said, proudly.
“I really feel sad whenever I see her batch mates like Krissy. They are already finished with their schooling,” Empeño said, referring to lawyer Maria Kristina Conti of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
Conti is now also one of the private lawyers of the two mothers, tasked to fight the legal battle against those accused in the disappearance, one of them retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan.
Cadapan and Empeño looked at the crowd of students and activists listening intently at the program and said, “They would have been among them today, resisting and fighting for the country.”
This story originally appeared at Bulatlat.com. Story and photo by Janess Ann Ellao.