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.