12 years in search of a disappeared son

Case of missing Filipino activist Jonas Burgos has been won, but his whereabouts remain unknown
12 years in search of a disappeared son

Edita Burgos holds a photograph of her missing son, Jonas, during the observance of the 12th year of his disappearance on April 26. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

It has been 12 years of constancy in the search for Jonas. No stone has been left unturned and no information has been ignored. Intervention from all possible agencies, personalities and communities was sought. Commitment to the vows of love and fidelity to the ways of peace urged us on.

The first six years was spent in fighting the legal battle until finally the Supreme Court ruled in March 2013 that the Philippine army took Jonas, and declared that he is an enforced disappearance victim. 

The case was won but the battle was lost. Jonas has not returned to the family despite an order by the Supreme Court to the military to free him. Worse, a suspect, identified in open court was acquitted

The perpetrators, instead of being punished were promoted and remain free. Some are now occupying high government positions.

The last six years was a roller coaster of events. New evidence was obtained, submitted to the courts, as a result of which a new investigation started. This was full of promise, but the loss of the key witness relegated the case to going "nowhere."

In hindsight, looking at the series of events, one sees an invisible hand causing the loss of the one hope of convicting the suspects. It is a no brainer to see who would benefit from this development.

Yet, we know that there is hope, for what is hidden from man's eyes is revealed at the perfect time.

Meanwhile, the family holds on to the order of the Supreme Court: "Return Jonas to his family." And for as long as this order is not complied with, we hold the government accountable for Jonas' fate. 

Clearly, the Supreme Court resolved that, "the Philippine army is accountable for the disappearance of Jonas." If they do not comply, the officers responsible should be held in contempt.

In commemorating the 12th year since the abduction of Jonas, several things need highlighting:

First, past presidents, Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino failed to surface Jonas, even after they promised they would help. As commanders in chief of the armed forces, they could have surfaced him, thus it is easy to conclude that they are part of the cover-up.

Second, legal mechanisms do not appear to work in the Philippines. Regardless of the presence of the anti-disappearance law, only when institutions cooperate to implement and comply, will laws be effective. Thus, it is little wonder victims distrust the courts and impunity continues.

Third, under the present dispensation, there is less hope that justice will be obtained for the victims of enforced disappearance. And with a petition to delist 625 names submitted to the United Nations’ Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance, the government only reveals its evil design to sweep all enforced disappearance cases under the rug. 

As if the memories of the victims would be erased if they do this. This shows extreme insensitivity to the plight of the families of the victims

The information submitted to the U.N. by the Philippine mission is said to be a thick volume with about 500 pages. These contain information about the victims and their cases. It is suspiciously strange that not one family member of the hundreds of victims was interviewed, nor was information obtained from the Commission on Human Rights.

The claim that families were adequately compensated, and that most cases have been resolved, is false. Families of enforced disappearance victims from the time of Corazon Aquino (1986) to the present have not received any reparation and no case has been resolved. Meaning, not a single victim has been returned and no one has been punished for disappearing the victims.

We, victims, need to rethink. What should we do with leaders of a government who are insensitive to the least, the last and the lost?

Unless we find a voice to represent the disappeared, the voiceless, we, the small people with small voices, may never obtain the justice and peace we are praying for. The challenge is to find that voice. And in the Philippines the best time to meet the challenge is now, during the elections in May.   

Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen — believed to be soldiers — abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing.

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