Son of slain Guatemalan labor leader brings hope to families of Filipino desaparecidos

By: Tricia Aquino, InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5

Guatemalan labor leader Amancio Samuel Villatoro, who was abducted by the military during his country’s 36-year civil war, was confirmed to have been executed only 15 years later. Details of his death were found in a logbook dubbed the “death squad dossier” by the Washington-based National Security Archive, which is run by scholars and reporters. (Photo from the National Security Archive)

MANILA, Philippines — Guatemalan labor leader Amancio Samuel Villatoro was wearing Levi’s when he was executed by the army in March 1984. But his family didn’t know it.

The Central American country was then embroiled in a 36-year civil war between the military-backed government and leftist rebels.

Some 50,000 “left-wingers” were killed, according to the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/country_profiles/1215811.stm), with 11,000 of these deaths occurring in 1981 alone.

By the time the war ended in 1996, 100,000 had died and 40,000 were missing, with a United Nations commission saying “security forces” conducted more than 90 percent of the human rights atrocities during the period.

For 15 years, Villatoro was among the thousands, of desaparecidos, victims of enforced disappearances whose fates remained unknown.

It was only after DNA testing by the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (http://www.fafg.org/Ingles/paginas/underConstruccion.html) on 220 skeletons, many still in the clothes they were wearing when they did, exhumed at the Comalapa Military Detachment in the municipality of San Juan Comalapa, that Villatoro’s family finally learned of his fate.

Villatoro was buried in a grave with five other persons, one of whom was identified as Sergio Saúl Linares Morales.

The labor leader’s son, Samuel, visited the Philippines as a delegate to the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines held from Friday to Sunday last week in Quezon City.

Samuel was eight when his father was abducted.

He eventually joined the “My Name is Not XXX” campaign, which sought to keep the disappeared from being forgotten by society.

The campaign led to the exhumation of bodies in former military camps, including the one where his father’s remains were found.

While here, Samuel joined the Southern Tagalog team of the International Solidarity Mission with other Latin American delegates, interviewing “victims of human rights violations in the heavily-militarized communities of the Bondoc Peninsula, Quezon province,” a statement released by Filipino human rights organization Desaparecidos, the Families of the Disappeared for Justice, said.

Since President Benigno Aquino III came to office in 2010, there have been two enforced disappearances in Southern Tagalog — those of Felix Balaston and Alfredo Bucal – Desaparecidos said.

“The situation in the Philippines brings me back to the time when my father was still disappeared, giving me (a) strong emotional clash,” Samuel said in the statement.

But his story of long years of waiting and in the end, confirming, what happened to his father brought hope to the families of Filipino desaparecidos.

“Maybe not all hope is lost for the families of desaparecidos,” said Lorena Santos, whose father, National Democratic Front peace consultant Leo Velasco, disappeared in 2007 after his abduction by suspected military agents.

Santos said meeting Samuel was “like meeting a brother from a distant land,” victims of “government violence” united in their common search “for justice and peace.”

“Villatoro’s family may have a very different culture from the Filipinos families of desaparecidos, but the pain they went through in all the years of searching, or even waiting for Amancio is the same pain as mine, my family’s and other families of the disappeared,” she said.

A talk between the two, with the help of a translator, ended tearfully.

Santos admitted being a little jealous that Samuel was able to find his father, even if he was dead.

Explaining what keeps them going, Santos quoted what Samuel told her: “That is why my family came out to the public and announced we were able to identify my father, because we want to keep the hope for every family of the disappeared that they may someday find their missing loved ones. We just have to keep on looking.”

 

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