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Philippines

Where shall we light the candles?

One question that haunts families looking for their kin is whether he or she is dead or alive

Edita Tronqued-Burgos, Manila

Edita Tronqued-Burgos, Manila

Updated: October 31, 2020 04:36 AM GMT
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Where shall we light the candles?

Filipinos head to cemeteries to visit the tombs of their departed loved ones on All Souls' Day. (Photo: Vincent Go)

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November 1 and 2 are dates very important to Filipinos. They are All Saints' Day and All Souls Day' respectively. Being predominantly Catholic and a society that is imbued with age-old traditions where the dead are remembered and honored, the importance of the commemoration of these dates is reflected even in the civic calendar. 

Public holidays are planned to coincide with this commemoration to give the public a chance to properly honor their dead, whether it is to go to the provinces or the city where their dead are buried, or to plan such details so that the visits to cemeteries or columbaries would also be an opportunity for happy reunions of families and relatives.

But in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, such practices have been discouraged. In fact, visits to cemeteries are prohibited by virtue of ordinances of local governments and guidelines provided by churches and congregations, so the faithful must make adjustments, not without sadness and frustrations. 

However, to us, the families and friends of the victims of enforced disappearance, the sadness and suffering brought about by not being able to go to a place to honor our missing loved ones is nothing new. From the time of the enforced disappearance, the family is ignorant of the fate of the disappeared. This is one of the essential elements of an abduction that characterizes an enforced disappearance. The other elements are that the perpetrators are state agents, the abductors keep the fate of the disappeared unknown to all, the state and authorities deny the abduction, the victim is kept outside the protection of the law and completely at the mercy of the perpetrators. 

One question that has haunted the families looking for their kin is … is he or she dead or are they alive? Do we pray for their eternal repose or do we pray that our loved one has the strength and faith to hang on until we find him or her. Do we pin our hopes on the justice promised by the laws of the land or do we place our hopes on the resurrected Christ alone?

To believe that after so many years the disappeared person has been murdered and disposed of is the easier way for the heart because if we truly believe this, then we also are confident that our loved one is no longer being tortured by their captors. To hope that they are still somewhere though subjected to unimaginable inhuman treatment gives the family a small window where rescue can still happen if it is God’s will. 

And yet the families are not totally inactive. In the Philippines, the group Desaparecidos, representing families seeking justice for the disappeared, has creative means to commemorate and to never forget their disappeared. For so many years, the members would gather on Nov. 1 and 2 in groups, in churchyards and plazas, where they would light candles and remind the world that their victims were still missing. 

Last year it was in the grounds of the Baclaran Church, administered by the Redemptorist fathers, where a small picnic with a program was held. Here we cheered the news that a military general, Gen. Jovito Palparan, and two others found guilty of kidnapping and illegal detention had finally been transferred to the national penitentiary. The Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 was not yet passed at the time of filing the case. R.A. 10353 was passed into law on Dec. 21, 2012. 

The victory of one is the victory of all. 

The family of Jonas Burgos would commemorate his memory with a get-together. Jonas loved helping to cook and share a meal. We recalled the jokes and funny, even adventurous incidents surrounding Jonas’ growing up. A nephew remembered Jonas’ playfulness. A niece recalled his thoughtfulness — Jonas would bring home pets. Another said his practical jokes were very memorable, while a sibling remembered his love of classical music. His mother said she missed Jonas the handyman.   

Always the laughter would taper off into thoughtful silence. Once, when the silence was giving way to tears, Jonas’ mother asked all to promise that until Jonas was found, the family members would find time to send him love, thoughts and prayers in the hope that Jonas would feel the love and draw strength from the fact the family would never give up looking for him. The gravest sin we could commit was to forget our disappeared, according to Sonny, Jonas’ elder brother.

Edita Tronqued-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. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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