Edita Burgos was a teacher who wanted to be a nun when she met the man who would become free speech icon Joe Burgos. Joe Burgos died at 62. His son Jonas Burgos was abducted on April 28, 2007 at Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City. He was 37, had a daughter and wife, and, according to the military, was an intelligence officer of the New People’s Army working under the alias of “Ka Ramon.”
This is the story of Edita Burgos, as told to Patricia Evangelista, written on Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, 2011.
My husband Joe Burgos was the perfect husband. We were together for more than 40 years, and we were still in love until the day he died. He was a very good father, very strict, a disciplinarian. He wasn’t around most of the time. He would tell me, “There’s something bigger than just the family.” And it was the legacy he wanted to leave with his children.
On April 28, 2007, my son, Jonas, was abducted in a mall in Quezon City. He was 37 years old at that time. The whole family was supposed to meet that night, but he didn’t come. The next day, he answered my calls, it was about noontime, but his voice was very, very weak, and he didn’t make any sense. Then his phone went dead.
I know he was trying to tell us something. I thought that he met an accident, that he was weak, he was under the influence of drugs. I found out later that at the time he was talking to me, he was already in the hands of his captors.
So the next day we called a press conference. That was April 30. Within a few hours, somebody called and told me he saw somebody being kidnapped in Ever Gotesco and that somebody looked like my son. That was the first lead. And so, within minutes, we were in Ever Gotesco, and within the hour, we were able to talk to the waitress and the guard. They said four men and one woman abducted him. The mall’s guard said he saw more men outside waiting for him. He was dragged into the van with the plate number TAB-194.
At the very start, my children were telling me that someone had to act as the spokesperson of the family. And I was thinking, if it were one of my children who spoke for us, they might be taken, they might become targets. So I decided that I would be the spokesperson. I don’t think I’m effective. But I just have to do what I have to do.
Of course, because my husband was a journalist, he developed friends with a lot of military bigwigs at the time. I tried to go and see them and ask for help, maybe they could intercede for me, and negotiate the release of Jonas, if he was indeed in the hands of the military. All the people I approached always told me they could help, they would help, but nothing came out of it. And when I would go back to them, they would refuse to see me.
It was much later when I first heard of the name “Ka Ramon.” It came from Lieutenant General Romeo Tolentino. He was the one who called for a press conference identifying my son as Ka Ramon, and it was also the military who identified the name Ka Ramon as being found in the military Order of Battle.
I’ve seen the Order of Battle. It was marked, stamped, “confidential.” And I saw across the name of Ka Ramon the word neutralized, and in military parlance, it means either under their control, or killed, or murdered.
According to the military, Ka Ramon was a member of the NPA. If they say so, and they believe so, then they have the motive to take him. I think that’s the reason why they also took him. With all my efforts and with all the noise that I’m making, wouldn’t it be wiser to surface him, dead or alive, to make me stop? I am doing more harm to them. If he were really dead, why wouldn’t they let me find the body, or ashes, or bones, whatever proof, whatever evidence they really murdered him.
Even if Ka Ramon is Jonas, even if he is NPA, I would still look for him. I know my son, and I know the kind of heart that he has. And his heart is for the poor and oppressed. Now, I am the chairperson of the Desaparecidos. This time, I must be spokesperson for all the disappeared.
We’re a small ragtag group of about 30 to a hundred. A lot of them are mothers and fathers. There are also children. And when there is a need to talk, I talk for them, I talk with them, I cry with them. So it’s not just Jonas. I know now that it is something bigger than Jonas.
There was a mother I once accompanied to Fort Magsaysay. She was given a permit to go in, because her son had been seen there. She was a vendor, and she wanted me to go with her.
There was a lawyer there when we arrived. He read the names of those who had the authority to visit and said there was no way he could know who we were. And he was so arrogant and so domineering and was treating everyone so badly that I stood up, I went to the center of the circle, and I told him, “You know, you’re not only arrogant, you’re ridiculous.” And he was surprised that I could speak English. I saw it in his face, and I think he wanted to ask me who I was, but he probably recognized me. He started laughing. And I said, “You’re not even funny. Why don’t you just bring us to the place where we’re supposed to go? You have the order.”
So he stopped, he let the paper fall on the ground and said he was leaving because he was hungry. And he just left us there.
That’s how they treat the people who are seeking justice, simply because we dress simply, and we don’t talk much, and we have relatives the military claim are leftists or NPA. They think that we do not deserve justice.
I believe Jonas is alive. It’s difficult, because if he were alive then he would be in a place where he is not free, and he would be undergoing unthinkable horrors. Torture. Just being placed inside a cell, and not being able to go out to go to your family is torture enough, but going through physical torture is terrible. But my son Jonas was always so determined. He was persistent. So if he is alive, and he knows that we are all looking for him, he would have the strength to go on.
I think that he is not only his father’s son; he is also his mother’s son, who has my same faith.
If my son Jonas, is dead, praise be Jesus Christ, that is His will for him. And he would be in a better place than we all are in. Look at this place, the Philippines, you can’t even get justice; a mother cannot even find her son. So if Jonas were dead, the heavenly Father has him in His bosom. And my son would have found his father.
* * *
Email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The writer thanks Kiri Dalena, Philip Manalang, Carlo Gabuco, Piya Constantino, Sari Estrada, Cyril Bautista and Geloy Concepcion. Video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMZ_cHyBsTg.