Still missing after a year: ‘Surface Cebu community worker Elena Tijamo’

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By Romae Chanice Marquez

On June 13, 2020, four armed men, masked and clad in black, reportedly put a tape on community worker Elena Tijamo’s mouth and tied her hands before taking her away.

It has been a year after Elena, or ‘Ate Lina’ to colleagues, was abducted from her home in Brgy. Kampingganon, Bantayan, Cebu. Despite having no word of her whereabouts, her family and fellow community workers are hopeful that Lina will be found.

Lina works as a coordinator for non-government group Farmers Development Center (FARDEC), a regional peasant support organization based in Central Visayas. She started her community development work among farming communities in the 1980s during the Marcos administration.

In her commitment to serve poor farmers in Central Visayas, Lina led in launching sustainable agricultural programs in farming communities in Bohol, Cebu, and Negros.

The manner of her abduction is similar to how many human rights defenders have been abducted in recent years. Lina was also red-tagged in 2019 together with her NGO before her abduction.

Weeks before her disappearance, several individuals went to her house and asked about her personal information, saying that this was part of the requirements to avail of government aid under the pandemic. But it was discovered later that no other household in their community was interviewed except for Lina.

Patrick Torres, executive director of FARDEC told AlterMidya last year that he believed that the red-tagging incidents against their organization, including their community workers, are connected to the abduction of Lina.

The group was labeled a “local front of a communist group” by the military, particularly by Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Major General Reuben Basiao, during a hearing in the House of Representatives in 2019.

‘A role model in development work’

“Inday Lina sustains her love for the peasants through and through,” shared Dr. Phoebe Sanchez, a former UP Cebu professor and Lina’s coworker and friend. “Since the 1980s, we were able to work together in many instances and in many multi-sectoral campaigns.”

Other colleagues remember her as someone who never tires, a real role model for development and community workers.

“She has always been a reliable person,” Sanchez added. “Whether we need rice for Typhoon Yolanda victims, or transportation to reach the beneficiary communities, she was always the one we run to and the one who could coordinate the fastest.”

In fact, she said that Lina embodies the motto: “Think quick, move quick.”

‘Desaparecido’

Disappearances like Lina’s case are not new. In fact, according human rights group Karapatan, there are 18 cases of enforced disappearance since the start of the Duterte administration in 2016.

These victims are usually human rights defenders, farmers, unionists, and students.

Family and colleagues suspect that state agents were behind Lina’s abduction because they managed to easily transport Lina even under strict Covid-19 lockdown measures at that time.

On June 7, various people’s groups Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Cebu (KMP-Cebu), Amihan Peasant Women Cebu, and Anakpawis-Cebu conducted a series of visits to concerned government offices and military and police camps to press authorities and state security forces to surface Lina. She may have been missing for a year now, but they vowed to continue searching for Lina and demanding justice for her abduction.

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