(Note: On April 28, 2007, as he ate lunch at a fast food in Quezon City, farmer-activist Jonas T. Burgos was seized by six people and dragged to a vehicle later traced to the military. His enforced disappearance sparked a national search, and brought his family – his mother Edita, especially – to dozens of local and international forums that she thought could help further the case of finding her son and others similarly disappeared. It’s been 10 years, but their journey continues).
At about this time 10 years ago, Jonas told his wife, Mary Ann, he was going out to meet with some friends. That was the last time she saw him.
At that time, Yumi, his daughter was 2 years old. Now she is 12 years old, who just graduated from elementary school. Last month, before her graduation, even as she knew what her Mom was going to tell her, she still asked: “Dadating kaya si Tati (her name for her Tatay) ?” Hope springs eternal in the heart of a child.
When she heard that I was going to be interviewed over the radio she told me to mention her message. “Salamat po sa lahat ng tumutulong. Salamat na di tayo pinabayaan ni God. Sana makabalik na sa amin si Tati.” In the purity of this child, the longing for her father was expressed only after her gratitude was conveyed.
Like this child, we the Burgos family cling to the hope that comes from a higher source ‘That which is not allowed will not happen, and that our God is the God of the impossible’ – “What is impossible to man is possible to God.” (Luke 18:27)
I have met, talked with and hugged victims who were disappeared for more than 18 years. Disappeared while they were in their teens and emaciated and bearing the signs and scars of 18 years hard labor and torture, they were not immediately recognized by their own mothers and kin. But when we met, they were joyful, smiling, gentle and hopeful. This too is a source of light.
You who are here, those who are right now in front of Camp Aguinaldo, bearing the heat of the sun, those who are attending mass and prayer services all over the country today, (Legaspi City, Iriga City, Naga City, Angeles City, Tuguegarao, Cagayan Valley, Makati City, Parañaque City, Quezon City, Jaro, Iloilo and Malaybalay, Bukidnon – to name a few) are proof that our good God is providing for this family, for this cause, for this torture. Giving one’s time and attention is a generosity that cannot be measured.
I quote Mary Ann’s message here “We will always be grateful for the help that we have received in our search for Jonas. May God bless each and every one of you always. May our case help other families of other desaparecidos. And may these efforts put an end to their search.” And I add “May the Lord reward you a hundredfold. “
The 10-year search within which was the more than 8 year legal battle, which remains unfinished to this day, has provided us with the pieces of a puzzle that the lawyer and the family were able to put together… giving us a whole picture of the whys and hows of the abduction. We have repeatedly made this known to the public… Jonas was an activist, he spoke strongly against oppressive policies that affected farmers. He engaged people who implemented these oppressive measures. He was vulnerable- unarmed and alone. So he was taken.
The only update I can give you on the case is that:
The criminal case of kidnapping and illegal detention against Harry Baliaga Jr. on October, 2013 is ongoing. But there is a danger that the case may be dismissed because a key witness still needs to be found.
The petition to cite in contempt officers of the AFP filed with the Supreme Court last November 11, 2014 has not been acted on.
Meanwhile, the names of the main respondents of the case have been dropped and some of these personalities were promoted and appointed to high positions.
People know Jonas as an activist. But Jonas was much much more than that. What people do not know is that :
- Jonas is a good son. He followed our wishes to finish his studies (but not in the seminary as I have wished) before serving the people, He was respectful, thoughtful and helpful to his aging parents.
- He is a good brother—when his sister was left to cope as a single parent, he stood as the surrogate father, attending to the needs of his nephew and niece. His two other brothers were his sparring partners where trading barbs was non-stop be they jokes, ideological, academic or political discussions. Jonas was their drinking buddy, a ‘ka-banda’. His youngest sister looked to him as a protector.
- He is a good husband – going the extra mile to please his wife, doing chores to make things easier at home, always cheerful and hopeful, his home was a haven of laughter and song.
- He is a good father – squeals of joy would punctuate his time with his daughter – doing his tasks with his daughter on his shoulders, fighting a ’wrestling’ game with her, or just hoisting her up in the air and catching her, or teaching her how to float in water. He enjoyed being a ‘Tati.’
- He was a refined soul – loving classical music, playing musical instruments, gentle and sensitive.
- He is a true friend – giving his share of harvest to the other farmers, tutoring other farmer’s children so they could pass their subjects. Helping build a water system in a barrio so the households would have water, defending a Dumagat woman from abuse. Giving the food on his plate to a neighbor.
Jonas is so much more than being an activist. He is a true son of Joe Burgos Jr., the one who taught him and his brothers and sisters “to seek and live the truth and share a vision.”
Thank you so much to you who have accompanied us in our journey. Thank you to the CHR for making this commemoration more significant and eloquent. Thanks to all of you for your generosity of coming and being with us. To those in the mobilization- for enduring the sun and threats to your safety. Thank you for the prayers and masses. Thank you to Him who ordains all. To Him be the glory.
On this 10th year of search I wish to leave this thought with you… a message etched on the Berlin wall, or the parts of it that remain: “There are small people in small places doing small things and they are changing the face of the earth.” We may all be small in our own private lives. We may live in small places… especially us victims, defenders and ordinary people. Yet we can help change the face of the earth – doing what we must do, helping where we can help, searching for the lost, praying in our own small corners, being peaceful where there is strife, with constancy, fidelity and deep faith that in the end, good will triumph and then … peace will reign on earth!
*A talk given at the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of abduction of Jonas at the Bulwagang Pepe Diokno, Commission on Human Rights, Quezon City, April 28, 2017