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Why are they so cruel?

Philippine govt move to strike 625 people from a list of forcibly disappeared will add to the misery felt by the families

Edita T. Burgos, Manila

Edita T. Burgos, Manila

Updated: March 18, 2019 04:12 AM GMT
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Why are they so cruel?

Family members of victims of involuntary disappearances offer flowers and candles to remember their missing loved ones. (Photo by Jire Carreon)


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"Why are they so cruel?" asked a grandchild of one missing person.

We were having lunch and the adults at the table were discussing a Philippine government proposal to ask the United Nations to delist 625 names of enforced disappearance victims in the Philippines.

I was trying to explain to the younger ones what the adults were so serious about when the question popped up and completely floored me. "Why are they so cruel?" 

When one says you are cruel, it means that you have caused another human being much pain and suffering. When one says you are cruel, it implies that you occupy a superior position than your victim and you use this "superiority" to impose a harsher cruelty. And when you are cruel, it means that you hurt others maliciously, deliberately and intentionally.  

Why would Maria Anna, a child of nine years old, say it is cruel to remove the name of her grandfather, a victim of enforced disappearance, from the list of victims already filed with the U.N.'s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

I asked Maria Anna what she meant.

Rewind. Before her grandfather was disappeared, the child’s family lived as any normal poor extended Filipino family did. The grandfather, a factory worker, contributed to the economic needs of the family, enough to feed the family three times a day and enough to send the grandchildren to school.

After the disappearance, relatives, mainly the victim’s wife and children, helped out in the search by going to the police, taking the legal route and joining demonstrations. In short, family life was disrupted and the children suffered.

Maria Anna remembered that after her grandfather's disappearance the children had to be left in the care of relatives, had only "instant noodles" for meals and had to take care of themselves so they could go to school.

Other consequence of the disappearance was moving from one house to another for security reasons. And, of course, Maria Anna misses her grandfather so much. 

The young girl asked, "Isn’t it cruel to remove the names of our disappeared? Is it as if grandfather was not disappeared? We are deeply hurt. Is it as if they want to remove all hope from us? Is it because we are poor?"

I wanted to hug this girl and console her with "someone is hidden in this dark" with you like what poet Jessica Powers wrote. Already in this young girl’s mind is the recognition that the poor have less privileges and, probably wrongfully concludes, that the poor have less rights. 

It took me some time to answer the questions, trying to balance my answers, not provoking further anger, hopelessness and distrust yet without using untruths to make the situation clear.

I was more quiet than responsive. 

For the kind of people behind the delisting proposal, beware; your actions could be cause for scandal among children like Maria Anna.

In the Gospel, Matthew said: "If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."

Victims of enforced disappearance are persons who have been abducted by the state or those acting with the state’s consent. They are never released, their fate remains unknown, they are usually tortured excessively, outside the protection of the law, and many are killed.

They are placed in a terrifying situation of total defenselessness. Even if they later resurface alive, the victims, bearing physical and psychological scars, remain in constant fear for their lives.  

Used as a tool of terror to generate fear in communities and society, enforced disappearance is a continuing torture

There is never a day that passes without me praying that Jonas, my missing son, would return. The slow agony is endured non-stop by all relatives of missing victims, not knowing how their loved ones are treated.

The whole family is put in danger when they search for the truth. This agony is compounded by the economic impact if the disappeared is the breadwinner for the family.

How do I endure these and at the same time keep my sanity? Let me tell you a very short story.

"God sits on a chair of darkness in my soul. He is alone. I sit at His feet, a child in the dark beside Him. My joy is aware of His glance and my sorrow is tempted to rest on the thought that His face is turned from me. He is clothed in the robes of His mercy, voluminous garments, fabric strong for a frantic hand to clutch, and I hold to it fast with the fingers of my will." (Garments of God by Jessica Powers)

Maria Anna, let us clutch the garment of God. He shall not allow anyone to erase the memory of your grandfather. Know that some people inspired by the dark side are indeed cruel but know that there is a place "where one is loved, where one can trust, strength not circumscribed by dust" even if "all is hurricane outside."

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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