I heard about your enforced disappearance six days before the passing into law of the Philippine Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012, the first ever anti-enforced disappearance law in Asia. I have worked on the issue of enforced disappearance for a couple of decades. Each case means a life stolen from the disappeared and his or her family. It means that a part of society has been forcibly taken from it, thus tearing apart its very fabric and causing devastating consequences to the disappeared that you are, your loved ones and the society where you belong. When the most-awaited enactment of the then draft anti-disappearance law came after more than 16 years of struggle for it to see the light of day, I had the ambivalent feeling of joy that we finally have this law in the Philippines, but mixed with pain because the list of desaparecidos of the world was lengthened further by your enforced disappearance.
A few weeks before the 2013 International Day of the Disappeared, I wrote to your wife, Shui Meng about our campaign for your return, which she readily responded with an open heart. We demonstrated in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the country that bestowed upon you the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award. We conducted a signature campaign and personally gave the signatures to the Lao Embassy in Manila. We wrote statements demanding for your return. We sent messages to the Permanent Missions of Laos to the UN in Geneva and New York. We heard a deafening silence.
In November last year, I was fortunate to have personally met Shui Meng at the United Nations in Geneva. Knocking at the doors of such a huge edifice, with courage, she presented your case before the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Committee on Enforced Disappearance. In her, I personally witnessed the profound pain of a loving wife who will leave no stone unturned in her search for you. I found in her the never-ending hope that sooner than later, you would return. I felt her emptiness of not knowing where you are and how have you been. I could only guess a few of her many unanswered questions.
She left Geneva with these questions unanswered, leaving the United Nations with her cry so loud that it shook the international community and moved it to forge a global action to search for you and for thousands of others, who like you, have been forced to disappear.
Shui Meng’s search for you has never stopped and never will. I have seen her in the social media. I have read about her meetings with people from all walks of life in various parts of the globe. The expression of solidarity is incredibly amazing. After all, the perpetrators forcibly took you away from her, from your family, community and the greater society at the height of your development work that created and continues to create a favorable impact to the lives your constituents.
Shui Meng is such an admirable wife. Amidst her anxieties and anguish, she is a woman of virtues – a paragon of love, determination and courage. You must be proud of her in as much as she is proud of you.
A few days ago, I was fortunate to be with Shui Meng again in two series of conferences we organized in Manila. Difficult though it was for her to talk about the Minimum Standards on Psychosocial Accompaniment in the Search for Truth and Justice for Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Extrajudicial Execution, since not one of these standards exists in Laos, she spoke about you. Bravely, she showed to us the CCTV footage about the treacherous act of disappearing you by the very people who are supposed to protect Lao citizens like you. With her was a big solidarity group from 13 countries, who, in whatever way it could, vowed to express its collective solidarity. After all, you are our brother and Shuimeng, our sister. We are your bigger family.
Shuimeng also met other family members of the disappeared – Edita Burgos of the Philippines who lost her son, Jonas 7 years ago and whose flame of courage continues to light the path of many others in their search for truth and justice; Angkhana Neelaphaijit who tirelessly and meaningfully searches for her husband and many other disappeared in Thailand; Jose Daniel of Colombia whose father disappeared and whose wound was reopened upon hearing other victims’ stories, yet found solidarity from their presence.
Mr. Sombath, many people know that you would never leave your wife in such a state of pain. But the cruelty of the crime of enforced disappearances forced you to physically separate. We are certain, however, that with the strength of your spiritual oneness with Shui Meng, wherever you are, you have heard her cry and touched her tears. It must be all the more painful for you. But let your spiritual oneness be in itself a source of comfort and strength to each other. I believe that amidst the physical separation imposed upon you by the merciless perpetrators, you are one with each other. As your marriage vows state: “ To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.” And I must add, till life after death.
I personally did not have the opportunity to meet you before you were disappeared, but may I have the honor to send you this letter through your website and other social media. May I say this little prayer that may my voice, no matter how small, add to the collective voices of all those who indefatigably search for you.
Alive, you were forcibly taken from your family. Alive you have to be returned to your family and to your bigger family. In unison, we raise our voices for your immediate return and for an end to this horrendous crime against humanity.
Shui Meng and the rest of your bigger family warmly look forward to your immediate and safe return.
Your friend in the cause against enforced disappearance,
MARY AILEEN D. BACALSO