Gene Roz Jamil “Bazoo” de Jesus turned 27 on April 24. Despite having just finished organizing the People’s Cordillera Day commemoration the day before, he was already preparing for Labor Day events on May 1. But he never got to see his plans in action. Four days after his birthday, Bazoo and his fellow Indigenous Peoples’ (IP) rights defender, Dexter Capuyan, 56, were abducted by forces from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group. Over two months later, the two activists remain missing and the list of desaparecidos grows even longer.
Despite the existing Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, the state continues to forcibly disappear activists to stifle dissent. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s regime has seen 11 victims of enforced disappearances, just 11 months in. This already constitutes more than half of former President Duterte’s regime’s six-year record of 20 cases.
The state’s justification of red-tagging and enforced disappearances is to purge the “terrorists,” said Casselle Ton, spokesperson of Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, during an interview with the Collegian.
But being an activist is not tantamount to being a terrorist. Contrary to this antagonistic portrayal of activists by the state, Eli Capuyan, brother of Dexter, and Dittz De Jesus, mother of Bazoo, tell a story of two activists with hearts full of love for the service of their family and the Filipino people.
Before their disappearances, Bazoo worked as an information and network officer at the Philippine Task Force for IP Rights, and Dexter served as a community organizer in the Cordillera region. Their stories speak more of their compassion for the minority than their so-called rebellions.
“Mapoot at Magmahal”
Tita Dittz recalls her shock on Bazoo’s graduation day in 2016, when Bazoo climbed up the stage holding a megaphone. He led the calls of the UP community, calling against the contractualization of workers, and fighting for the right to free education. It was then that Tita Dittz realized that her son was no ordinary student.
As a child, Bazoo dreamed of being a veterinarian. But as he entered elementary and high school, he found his passion for writing, which compelled him to take a journalism degree in UP Baguio (UPB). In his third year, Bazoo became a student activist and chaired the Alliance of Concerned Students and the UP Baguio Council of Leaders.
As a fresh graduate with Latin honors from UP, Bazoo could have easily used his talents for corporate high-paying jobs. Instead, he chose to fight for the rights of IPs. It was exactly this selfless and compassionate nature of Bazoo that made him well-loved by the people surrounding him.
“Sa mga pinsan niya, napakabait ni Hadji. Tinuturing nila siyang parang confidant. Siya yung pinagsasabihan ng mga problema nila at talagang mahusay siyang tagapakinig at tagapayo,” said Tita Dittz, calling Bazoo by his nickname.
There were two words that Bazoo constantly quoted from UP Diliman activist-turned-revolutionary Recca Monte: “Mapoot at magmahal.” These are also the exact words his closest friend saw reflect the heart of Bazoo. His anger toward the conditions faced by the marginalized fueled his passion to serve them the best way he knew how.
Just like Bazoo, Dexter also had his heart set on serving the people. “Kung may mga taong sagad sa buto ang kasamaan, si Dex, sagad sa buto ang kabutihang-loob, pagmamalasakit sa kapwa, at kahandaang buhatin ang mahihina,” said Dexter’s former schoolmate in an anecdote posted on a Facebook campaign page. “Ayaw ng mga awtoridad sa mga taong tulad ni Dex na nais baguhin ang mga kamalian sa lipunan.”
The unselfish nature of Dexter is exactly how Eli remembers his older brother. Dexter was his appointed guardian, always there to make sure that at school or even at home, Eli was never left to do things alone.
During college, the siblings’ paths separated, with Eli in Manila and Dexter in Baguio. But news of Dexter’s activism did not escape Eli. He recalled how their father recommended that Dexter pursue law instead, but Dexter chose to stick with his studies as a BA Social Sciences student to be where his help was needed.
In UPB, Dexter served as an editor-in-chief of their student publication, Outcrop, in 1985, and became the chairperson of the city-wide chapter of the League of Filipino Students. Before his disappearance, Dexter was part of the Bontoc-Kankanaey-Ibaloi community and served as a full-time organizer in the Cordillera region, where he fought for the rights of indigenous communities, never regretting having turned down the path of becoming a lawyer.
Dexter’s activism did not just inspire fellow-activists but even his only child. “Despite our limited time together, we would bond through talking and sharing stories. This made me feel like I was seen and heard as a child growing up,” Gabrielle Capuyan said in an interview with Bulatlat.
Over two months have passed since Bazoo and Dexter were last seen. And it has been over two months since Gabrielle and Eli were left without a father and a brother, respectively, and Tita Dittz without a son. Their disappearances show the state’s tactics to threaten those who expose its incompetencies.
Love Fueled by Anger
Human rights violations against activists have been alarmingly prevalent in Northern Luzon since the start of Marcos’ term. In the Cordilleras, there have been instances of red-tagging, forced and fake surrenders, abductions, militarization, and trumped up charges against human rights defenders. Meanwhile, more than 10 cases of human rights violations have been recorded from January to March 2023 in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and La Union, according to the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance.
Indigenous communities in Northern Luzon, where Dexter and Bazoo were working, have continuously suffered because of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples that pushes for the deleterious dam and mining projects. The approval of these ventures that encroach the IPs’ ancestral lands violate their self-determination–the rights Dexter and Bazoo were fighting for.
But the government not only ignores the plight of IPs, it penalizes those who fight for it. Eli recalls the false charges hurled at his brother before his disappearance. The government identified Dexter as an alleged ranking leader of the New People’s Army.
After Dexter and Bazoo’s disappearance, only three military units accomplished requests of up-to-date registers by the family and paralegal team and lawyers, as per the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act, according to human rights group Karapatan. Officers-in-charge of Task Force Group Baguio did not even accept the letters sent by the families. The law states that those with legitimate interest in the location and condition of the two should have free access to details about their situation.
“Isa lang ang hiling namin, pati ang pamilya nila Eli, na pabilisin na yung investigation. Wala kami ng ideya kung nasaan na yung dalawa, kung kumakain, at tinatrato bilang tao,” said Tita Dittz.
It is supposedly the state’s role to investigate these cases and uphold human rights. But when state forces are the ones committing these crimes, we have no other choice but to strengthen our collective action in holding them accountable, just as Tita Dittz, Eli, and hundreds of people are steadfast in calling the military to surface Dexter and Bazoo.
It was their love for the people and disdain at injustices that strengthened Dexter and Bazoo to fight for the people. It is the same love and disdain that we must share to set them free and ensure that no one would ever have to suffer the same fate any longer. ●
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