Human Rights

Digging up a half-burnt body in Labrador, Pangasinan

Just came back from the exhumation of an unidentified cadaver of a female in Labrador, Pangasinan. It is the same body that Linda Cadapan, mother of missing student activist Sherlyn, suspects may be that of her missing daughter’s. The trip lasted for four hours from Manila to Labrador, a small town north of Lingayen. It is one of those rows of houses you may pass by in Pangasinan on your way to Baguio. The folks were certainly surprised at the sudden attention given to their small town today. As our convoy of vehicles rolled onto their streets, the Labrador people lined up the sidewalks, curiously delighted, as if some sudden good fortune had befallen their sleepy town. Vehicles from two television stations followed, piquing the locals’ interest even further.

It all reminded me of another coverage back in 2004, when communist rebels released two military prisoners of war in one of those seldom-visited towns in Camarines Sur. Two instances where a pack of media people descended upon a small town — but this is altogether different. The two, in fact, are even a study in contrasts: the Camarines Sur event, of course, involved the release of two combatants legitimately (as far as international statutes are concerned, at least), arrested by a contending army and subsequently released on humanitarian grounds.


The Labrador event was everything that the Camarines Sur event was not: we were there to witness the exhumation of a body, definitely of someone whose human rights had been wantonly violated (her body was dumped along the highway eight months ago, the upper part superficially burned to prevent recognition), and purportedly of a woman who had been illegally kidnapped, tortured and raped (according to witnesses), and summarily executed. While the 2004 prisoners of war, upon their release, were all praises for their rebel custodians, Sherlyn and Karen’s military custodians were much less kind. They were barbarically unkind.

The exhumation started around 2:30 p.m. (The CHR people announced to us that they would start the exhumation at 1:30 p.m. We went to the cemetery just before 1 p.m. and waited for them. It was tanghaling tapat and scorching hot. The CHR and UP people got there just after 2, all freshened up; some just had their baths.) For more than two hours, the gravediggers took turns digging, gradually revealing the makeshift coffin that had already half-collapsed due to pressure from the soil and rain.

The body, already in an advanced state of decompostion, had galvanized iron sheets as its coffin, and was buried on municipally-owned ground in the public cemetery five days after it was displayed at the municipal hall with no one claiming it. The Manalo brothers, who testified to the activists’ presence in various military camps at a time in Central Luzon and who witnessed the latter’s torture and rape, told the mothers what they heard among the soldiers before they managed to escape: that Sherlyn was executed by her handlers, just days after she attempted to slip a note to her kin alerting them of her location. They had no word on Karen.

It was also the Manalo brothers who alerted the mothers to the news that a body of a half-burnt woman was found in Labrador. They heard it on the radio. The last they had seen Karen and Sherlyn was somewhere in the military camps or safehouses of Pangasinan.

Doctors and experts from the University of the Philippines were there to supervise the exhumation. Initially, it was estimated that the DNA testing would take around two to three months, but the experts later admitted that the processing could be expedited (Which is just so; anybody who watches CSI knows those things take much less than the 30-minute span of the episode, given the proper equipment). Which means, the family of Sherlyn, as well as that of Karen, will have to wait in bated breath. Nay Linda says she has mixed feelings about the whole thing. She cannot possibly hope for the body to be that of Sherlyn’s. But if that were the case, it can only mean that her almost-two-year search has come to an end.

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16 thoughts on “Digging up a half-burnt body in Labrador, Pangasinan

  1. nakakaiyak naman ito. at higit sa lahat nakakagalit.

    naalala ko yung artikel mo tungkol sa POWs. gamit mo pa yung quote ni dostoevsky tungkol sa state of prison and how it reflects the civilization. what does a half-burnt decomposing body say about our country? haaaay. truly, you’re the secretary of death in these trying times.

  2. ice says:

    that people continue to be tortured and executed with impunity. wala akong masiip na analogy sa ganitong pagkakataon.

    nakakita na rin kasi ako ng exhumed body — the body comes an empty husk, only the bones, hair and fingernails remain.

    nakakita na rin ako ng bangkay ng namatay sa sunog, at may nakausap na rin na mga rape victim .

    kapag naisip ko na naranasan ng isang tao ang lahat ng ito — at na hindi lang siya ang nakaranas nito — ano pa ba ang masasabi ko?

    tama ka, mabigat isipin. pero sa kabila ng lungkot, nangingibabaw ang galit.

  3. guiller says:

    hala, baka na-reduce ko yung remains as manifestation of this fucked up country, pero in itself, kawawa naman yung namatay, siya man o hinmdi si sherlyn. at laluna yung mga stories of torture and rape. hindi na lang identity ang gustong burahin nung sinunog siya, pero bago pa man siya mapatay yung pagkatao niya ay tinangka nang burahin nung mga hayup na militar.

    hay, on a lighter note (yikes, paano maghlalighter note sa ganitong konteksto) nakasabay ko kaninang umaga sa jeep sina sonny at delia sa up papuntang edsa hi-way. hehehe. absurdo, kasi may hawak pang plastic i sonny na may label na “borders,” tapos we passed by commoinwealth and they saw the s&t parks (i.e. call centers, etc.) being constructed. haaay.

    we’re being violated in many levels by this government.

  4. krguda says:

    Guiller,

    I completely agree that we’re being violated by this government in so many levels.

    Kahapon, plano ng Karapatan at ng pamilya Cadapan at Empeño na pumunta sa exhumation na walang midya. Plano nila gawin itong isang pribadong aktibidad dahil maselang usapin ang paghuhukay ng bangkay at hindi pa rin naman sigurado na kay Sherlyn nga ito. Nagkasundo na ang CHR, UP at Karapatan na wala dapat midya sa exhumation.

    Pero isang araw bago ang iskedyul, biglang nalaman na lang ng pamilya na sasama daw ang midya. Naglabas daw ng advisory ang CHR sa midya hinggil sa exhumation. Tapos, sa isang briefing sa munisipyo ng Labrador kahapon, parang ayaw pang kilalanin ng CHR ang Karapatan na siyang matagal nang sumusuporta sa paghahanap ng mga kaanak.

    Sa briefing ding ito, tinanong ng isang reporter ang komisyoner ng CHR kung bakit naghintay pa ng walong buwan bago hukayin ang bangkay gayong matagal na ring hinihiling ni Nanay Linda na hukayin ito (Agosto pa yata). Sabi ng komisyoner, di kasi raw naka-address sa kanya ang sulat (naka-address ito sa Chair ng CHR na si Purificacion Quisumbing).

    Ang dating sa akin, pagkatapos matagal na dedmahin ng CHR ang request ni Nanay Linda, nagawa pa nilang magpapogi sa midya noong mismong exhumation.

  5. krguda says:

    Hi Ice,

    Ang nakakabigat pa niyan, nabalitang buntis si Sherlyn nang dinukot siya. Posibleng nakunan siya. Posible ring nanganak siya — salaysay ng mga Manalo, isang buwang di nila nakita sina Karen at Sherlyn sa kampo. Maaaring noong panahong iyon, nanganak siya.

    Magandang balikan ang kuwento ng mga Manalo:

    http://pangkulitan.motime.com/post/688375#comment

  6. Grabe naman talaga sa kabagalan ang mga opisyal ng gobyerno at mga ‘eksperto’ pagdating sa ganitong usapin ano? biruin mo ang tagal pa ng hihintayin bago makilala yung bangkay. nakakangitngit naman ito.

    dibale, pasasaan ba at darating din ang araw na maigagawad ang hustisya diba? tulad nung sa kaso ni Juliet (kahit na naka’pahinga sila ngayon ng asawa niya), naparusahan na yung nag-‘aso’ sa kanila. atsaka yung kay faith de vera, tumanda na yung pulis na gumahasa sa kanya at nagpahirap, naparusahan pa rin.

  7. krguda says:

    H i Kat, oo, nakalulungkot nga. Salamat sa pagbabasa.

    Consie, umaasa rin ako sa araw na iyon. Pero para sa akin, napaka-abstrakto pa nito sa mga kaanak. Gusto nila kongkretong porma ng hustisya. Kaya nga marami sa kanila aktibo na rin sa paghangad ng pagbaba ni Gloria sa puwesto — at least, panimulang hakbang ito para makamit ang hustisya.

  8. G says:

    sad to say, pero kailangan din nating tanggapin ang hinayupak na gobyernong ito. kasi hanggang ngayon, parang kinalimutan na natin at pinalampas ang pagkadami daming pagkakataon. at hindi na talaga tayo natututo sa regimeng marcos. tapos bagong klase ng demonyo ang mga nasa gobyerno, mas mautak at mas maliksi sila. pero higit sa lahat ng mga ito, mga militar pa rin ang nasa puno’t dulo di ba? bakit hindi na lang natin banggain ang militar? bakit hindi sila na-e expose? masyado na ba tayong takot sa kanila? dahil ba sa sila ay merong baril o sandata? ang pagbangga sa kanila ay parang pagbangga din ni rizal sa mga kastila, “the pen is mightier than the sword”. dapat mas pursigido tayo against these corrupt military officials kasi sila lang din ang “nananagana” tuwing merong kudeta. sana, magising na tayo sa katotohanan. na walang matinong gobyerno kapag lumampas na sa termino ng panunungkulan ang isang opisyal, kung saan ay lumalakas ang korapsyon sa ating bansa. tulad na lang ng panahon ni marcos at ngayon ay nangyayari na naman sa panahon ni gloria.

  9. krguda says:

    G,

    Naniniwala rin akong kailangang ibunyag ang mga abuso ng militar at iba pang sangay ng gobyerno na naatasang mangalaga ng karapatan ng taumbayan pero kabaliktaran ang ginagawa. Hindi ko lang maintindihan ang sinabi mong “kailangang tanggapin ang hinayupak na gobyernong ito”. Lumalabas na marami na ngang ayaw nang tanggapin ang gobyernong ito.

    Tama ring sabihing may kakayahang umangkop ang mga mapanupil na elemento ng estado. Nitong mga huling taon ni Arroyo, halimbawa, dumami ang dinudukot — mas madali kasing itago ang pagdukot kaysa mag-iwan ng ebidensiyang katawan na pinaslang.

    Hindi dapat maliitin ang kabangisan ng pasista.

  10. Pingback: It’s not Karen or Sherlyn « Reportage, etc.

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