MANILA, Philippines – The “missing” child mentioned in the Senate hearing last August 7 is free and safe, but not ready to resurface due to threats of harassment, abduction, and assassination, according to leaders of activist groups.
Anakbayan and League of Filipino Students (LFS) leaders addressed the government's allegations of recruitment and kidnappings of minors by leftist groups in a press conference on Tuesday, August 12, which was also International Youth Day.
At the Senate hearing presided Senator Ronald dela Rosa, a former Philippine National Police chief, parents of students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) testified how their children left their families to join militant groups, including LFS, Anakbayan, and Kabataan.
Among these parents was Relissa Lucena, who recounted how her 18-year-old daughter had left home after joining Anakbayan.
The Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group filed kidnapping and other charges against Anakbayan members with regard to her daughter.
Anakbayan spokesperson Alex Danday said the student is safe and still an active member of Anakbayan. She refused to disclose her location, mentioning the history of police harassment, abduction, and assassination of youth activists.
“All we can say is that safe 'yung mga kabataan ngayon at 'pinapagpatuloy nila kung ano 'yung gusto nila, which is 'yung paglilingkod sa mamamayang Filipino,” she said.
(The youth are safe and they are continuing what they want to do, which is to serve the Filipino people.)
At the press conference, Kara Taggaoa, national spokesperson of LFS, said this history of police abuse of youth activists adds fear and worry to their members, in addition to negative reactions and threats made on social media.
She said it would be up to their members when to resurface. “Hinihintay rin po natin ang kanilang desisyon…na humarap sa publiko,” she said. (We are waiting for their decision to face the public.)
The Anakbayan member published a post on Facebook on August 8, saying she is not missing nor kidnapped. Danday said the post served as the girl's open letter to her parents.
Danday said the organization makes efforts to reach out to parents and ensure them that their children are safe.
“Tungkulin po ng bawat aktibista na magpaliwanag sa kanilang mga magulang kung bakit wasto ‘yung kanilang ginagawa sa loob ng organisasyon, kung bakit sila sumama sa mga organisasyon, at kung bakit sila magpapatuloy doon sa mga organisasyon,” she said.
(It is every activist’s responsibility to explain to their parents that what they are doing in the organization is right, why they joined the organization, and why they will continue being in the organization.)
During the Senate hearing, Dela Rosa proposed to increase police patrols at PUP to abate supposed communist recruitment.
Taggaoa reiterated that they are not the ones who recruit members into the New People’s Army. It is experiences, not organizations, that change the youth’s attitude, and they can decide for themselves how to respond to what they experience in our country, she said.
Danday said membership in these organizations is voluntary and members have the right to leave anytime.
Raoul Manuel, president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, said the youth are not blind, and they can see what is wrong in our country.
Hen Namoca, convener of One Big Fight for Human Rights and Democracy, said activism is important in holding the government accountable for its mistakes. “It is important for us youth to come together and tell the government we’re not afraid,” he said. – Rappler.com
Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.