A mother’s grief
The mother of desaperacido Jonas Burgos marked over the weekend the fifth anniversary of his disappearance, but with scaled-down expectation of finding him still alive. In terms both poignant and bitter, Edita Burgos has virtually admitted that prospects have dimmed for her ever finding her son alive, so she has braced herself for the truth. “My standards have gone down through the years,” she said. “Whereas before, I’d say ‘Give him back to me alive and well, and let justice be served,’ now I just want to find out what really happened. Because if I find out the truth, I’ll also find him.”
Jonas is the son of Edita and the late journalist and publisher Jose Burgos Jr., who won the Press Freedom Hero Award from the International Press Institute in 2000. Since April 28, 2007, when Jonas, then a 37-year-old agriculturist, was seized allegedly by military agents in a Quezon City mall, the Burgos family has gone to court, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and even the United Nations seeking to hold the military accountable.
Jonas’ case is among several cases typical of the previous administration that became notorious for several unsolved disappearances and killings of dissidents, fostering a culture of impunity that derided human rights and the rule of law.
Similar to Burgos’ are the cases of UP Diliman students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, who have been missing since 2006. As in the case of Burgos, the military has been implicated and the mothers of the victims have pursued all legal means to force it to produce their missing children—with mixed results. In the case of Empeño and Cadapan, retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan has been formally charged with kidnapping and illegal detention and, typical again of the culture of impunity with which certain sectors of the military treated human rights cases against them, Palparan has gone into hiding rather than face the charges against him. Meanwhile, the Armed Forces and the police appear not in the mood to capture one of their own and make him face the music.
Like the parents of the missing students, Edita Burgos has pursued all legal means to compel the military to produce her son. The family’s petitions for a writ of amparo and writ of habeas corpus are being heard by the Court of Appeals. The Department of Justice is conducting a preliminary investigation of the kidnapping and illegal detention charges against Lt. Harry Baliaga Jr., who was identified by the CHR as one of those who abducted Jonas. But the five-year struggle has been mostly a story of setbacks rather than gains. The appeals court recently denied the Burgos family’s motion for disclosure of the suspects’ summary of information. The military had opposed it.
Similarly, the parents of the missing students have been stumped by a civilian court that seems bent on protecting the interest of the military. Palparan’s co-accused in the case are in military custody despite a motion from the parents for the Malolos regional trial court to have them transferred to a civilian jail. Moreover, Philippine National Police Director General Nicanor Bartolome couldn’t produce Palparan, saying it was hard to find him because the fugitive had received the same training as his hunters.
Since Palparan became a fugitive of the law, blogs attributed to him and his supporters have alleged that the victims were members of the armed communist movement, and their parents should be hanged for wittingly or unwittingly causing their children to become communists. The same allegation has been made against Jonas Burgos and his grieving mother. The twisted logic operates like this: He was working for the communists and he deserved what he got. All’s fair in love and war.
Sad to say but the warped mindset continues to operate today among our military and police. The persistence of torture and instruments of violence in the work of people who are tasked to enforce the peace dates back obviously to the Cold War, when mayhem and murder were supposed to be carried out in a war that was low-key and low-intensity, which means a war waged surreptitiously, clandestinely, but nonetheless brutal and ideologically twisted and, sadly enough, a war turned against the citizens themselves, against noncombatants, against the motherland herself. Completely confusing the enemy, the military and the police have made war on the people they have sworn to protect, in effect turning as well against their own mothers.
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