Come November 1 and 2, the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively, all roads in the Philippines leads to the cemetery. Millions of Filipinos will visit the tombs and graves of their deceased family members. Families will be reunited around the graves of their dearly departed ones sharing stories, laughter, food and drinks. Some will even spend the night around their loved ones’ tombs, passing the long hours of the evening by playing card games, eating, drinking, and singing.
But how about those who have died yet have no graves or urns of their ashes where their families could gather around? Where would their families go to? What object can they hold on to to commemorate their dearly departed loved ones?
First of all, this begs the question, why are there dead people who have no graves or ashes? There are people who have disappeared and believed to have died due to an accident, crime, death in a location where their bodies were not found (for example, at sea). There are also those who disappeared because they were forcefully abducted and believed to have been killed by armed elements because of their beliefs and principles. Families of missing persons suffer grievously because they do not know whether their beloved is still alive or dead as his or her location and fate are not known. For many of these families, there is no closure to the pain and sadness they have long endured.
Over 1,600 people were disappeared in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship and since. None of them has ever been found. The successive governments that have followed the Marcos regime have failed to bring both light as to the fate of the disappeared, and justice. The families of the disappeared have received neither compensation or redress of any kind. Yet, they continue struggling for truth and justice. Meanwhile, human rights violations persist; people continue to be extra-judicially executed and murdered as well as tortured and imprisoned for political reasons.
One of the better known among the thousands of desaparecidos–victims of the Marcos dictatorial rule is our very own Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano. Fr. Rudy was a Redemptorist assigned in Cebu who was actively involved in struggle against the Marcos dictatorial regime. He courageously spoke out against the abuses under martial law. On July 11, 185 he was abducted by military intelligence agents and since then has not been found. After Marcos was deposed by people power, we heard from sources within the military that he died during interrogation. Until now we still don’t know where they buried him.
The Baclaran shrine has reserved a special place for Fr. Rudy Romano and his fellow desaparecido. At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is the monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared) in memory of Fr. Rudy Romano and many other missing persons during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance.
The families of desaparecidos come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day. Despite that they do not have any tangible object that remains part of their loved ones, they hold on to to the memories, principles and beliefs their missing beloved have dedicated and died for.