FLORES, Ceferino Arbon Jr.

Flores, Ceferino JrCeferino Flores Jr. came from a poor family in Negros Oriental province. When he was a young teenager he came to Manila to find work. At 16, he started as a roomboy at the famous Manila Hotel. He worked there for the next 13 years, resigned in 1970, after that, moved from one job to another. A friend then recommended him for a job at the Hotel Intercontinental, also in Manila. He worked at the Intercon from 1972 until the night of his disappearance in 1983.

Ceferino’s first known brush with politics was in 1971, when he helped set up the short-lived Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Otel at Restawran sa Pilipinas, or SMORP. This organization was among those that disintegrated after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. In 1973, intelligence agents of the newly-installed regime came asking for him at the boarding house where he and his wife Blanca lived. Ceferino managed to slip away. He was arrested in 1975 by men under the 5th Constabulary Security Unit (CSU), then detained for seven months on charges of subversion. The case was subsequently dismissed and Ceferino released from detention. (Find case files, lawyer.)

After his release, he reclaimed his job at Intercon’s housekeeping department  but he complained that he was being harassed by the management, accused of stealing hotel property or pressured to resign. With six children to sustain, he refused to back down. Despite these problems, or maybe also because of them, Ceferino became more active in trade union work. He joined the Hotel Intercontinental Manila Employees Union (HIMEU), later becoming a member of its board of directors. He was also a founding member of the National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant and Allied Industries (NUWHRAIN).

As he became more deeply involved in unionism he tried to have his wife Blanca and his children accept, if not understand, this growing commitment. One of his sons remembers how his father took his children to picketlines, trying to show them how workers struggled to improve their own working conditions. He took time out to explain some of the issues to his children. Blanca Flores once described her husband’s involvement in union work as “his life and his doom” (buhay at kamatayan).”

Cerefino did not have a charismatic personality. His was of a quiet and steady nature. Some of his neighbors were known to have told their time by the “clockwork consistency” of Ceferino walking home along that dark street to his old home in Manila’s Malate district, whistling, and a doggie bag tucked under his arm. He was conversant in politics and he studied the Philippine history seriously. But he preferred to work in the background.

And unknown to his many of his union colleagues, Ceferino worked for years providing support to certain anti-Marcos underground groups. His main duty had been to provide them safe meeting places and ensuring their safe entry and departure to and from these meeting places.

When he was not at work, Ceferino would scour the five-star hotels around Metro Manila, finding places for top-level secret meetings, and reliable contacts at these places. And for these meetings, he himself would fetch some persons in the Marcos regime’s most-wanted list, to meet with well-known and high-profile individuals. He would sometimes even buy meals for them. Sometimes he would even sit in these meetings, a rapt, wide-eyed listener.

Ceferino was regarded by his comrades as extremely trustworthy, and a careful worker. Several of those whom he served during these meetings later said they felt that they gave their lives to his keeping and that they would stay safe because Ceferino watched their backs for them.

In 1982, the Marcos regime instituted a series of high-level trade union arrests. Not a high-profile leader himself, Ceferino’s work in the underground was sensitive and important enough, he was in danger himself. In fact, he was abducted early in 1983, and never surfaced.

It was a Friday night. Ceferino was leaving the hotel after a long shift. He drove himself practically 24 hours a day because of all the things he had to do at work, in the union, in the underground, and at home. But unless he was in one of those delicate missions, he was always home and in bed before midnight. That Friday night, he did not come home. His wife, a parttime college teacher in social science, was used to Ceferino spending a night away, and did not worry, until Monday — Ceferino never went on long meetings without telling her. She started calling friends, the Intercon, and when she got no answers, she feared the worst. She visited hospitals, detention centers, police stations and even morgues and funeral parlors.

Twice, Blanca received insider information about her husband in detention. One said he was under the notorious colonel Rodolfo Aguinaldo, of the same 5th CSU that arrested him eight years before. She was never able to confirm this. She called press conferences and talked at rallies to focus attention on her missing husband. She filed a habeas corpus case before the Supreme Court. Then defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile expressed interest in Ceferino’s case.

But Blanca never saw Ceferino again. Ceferino was 44 when he joined what would be a list of about 200 desaparecidos under the Marcos dictatorship. What he suffered, how long he survived, his thoughts as he absorbed his punishment, are the terrible unknowns that will always haunt his wife and children until they finally know what really happened to him.