Neon green paper with a face drawing and the text “Surface Sombath Somphone.”
This was the symbol adopted by civil society groups that participated in the cultural and solidarity event titled “Public Action to Call on the Philippines and the ASEAN: Surface Sombath Somphone and all Desaparecidos.” The gathering was held last April 12 in front of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs offices in Pasay, Metro Manila.
Sombath Somphone, 60, a community worker and green activist from Laos, is the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Community Leadership. The event marked the 120th day of his disappearance and protested the seeming inaction of the Laos government.
The participants also sought the Philippine government’s support in ensuring that Sombath’s case is included on the agenda of bilateral meetings of leaders of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Sombath went missing on December 15, 2012. He was last seen in Vientiane, Cambodia, where a CCTV footage showed police stopping his jeep as he drove on the way home. Two plainclothes men then hauled him onto another vehicle.
It has been four months, and there has since been no information on his whereabouts. The Laos authorities deny involvement.
Sombath’s wife, Ng Shui Meng, is concerned, especially since her husband suffers from prostate cancer. She has received no word on her husband’s fate, but has told media, “I believe he is still alive.”
Officers and staff of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF), led by Awardee Relations Manager Ma. Carmencita Toledo, joined the solidarity event. Toledo reiterated the support of the Magsaysay Award community and the call to the Lao government to act toward Sombath’s deliverance.
Other groups present were the Asia Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Focus on the Global South, The Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance, and International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances.
Youth groups performed an interpretative dance and a choir speech calling for the immediate and safe return of Sombath. Other organizers pledged their support and continued vigilance as well.
“We will not be silenced. We will continue looking for Sombath Somphone,” declared Carol Peteros, one of the event organizers. Added JJoey Oliveros Dimaandal, “We will continue looking…waiting, and we will not forget.”
Sombath was recognized by the RMAF for “his hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders.”
He founded the Participatory Development Training Center, which teaches the youth and rural folks community-based development through skills such as fish farming, rice milling, and waste recycling.
In his acceptance speech, Sombath expressed his faith in the youth of Laos and in their capacity to help and lead the nation to progress.
“This award is not just for me or for my staff…This award is also for our young Lao volunteers and youth leaders who have demonstrated to us, the adults, that they have the capacity, and indeed the right, to claim the space to determine their own community’s development pathway,” said Sombath.
“I believe that [it is] their passion and their hopes and dreams for a better future which are recognized and celebrated through this prestigious award today. We have a vibrant and young population who are still relatively unspoiled by mindless consumerism and commercialization.”