Jonas Burgos, 41
Edita Burgos is going to court. There is a ruffle of white lace at her throat. The cap of dark hair is the same, the black jacket and fading slacks the same. She sits quietly, smiling and nodding at the newcomers who come to offer their support. She has the complaint in a folder, along with a cover letter addressed to the prosecutor general.
“It is therefore with a ray of hope that I am herewith filing my Affidavit Complaint,” reads her letter, “for the violation of Article 124 of the Revised Penal Code (Arbitrary Detention) or possibly murder, in the enforced disappearance of my son.”
For four years, Edita Burgos believed her son was alive. This is not her first time to file a complaint, or her second. In the four years since several armed men hauled 37-year-old Jonas Burgos out of the Hapag Kainan restaurant at Ever Gotesco Mall along Commonwealth Avenue, Edita Burgos has filed no less than six complaints at various institutions, signing her name at the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation Division, at the Commission on Human Rights, at the Court of Appeals, all the way to the Supreme Court.
Today, Edita T. Burgos, mother of a missing person, “Jonas T. Burgos, Filipino, 41,” will file her seventh plea for judicial aid, this time for the criminal offenses of arbitrary detention and obstruction of justice against several high-ranking officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In June of 2010, the Supreme Court claimed that the Philippine National Police and the AFP had failed in their duty “to conduct an exhaustive and meaningful investigation into the disappearance of Jonas Burgos,” and expressed dissatisfaction with the findings of both military and police. The high court said “serious lapses” in data prevented them from ruling on the claims filed by the Burgos family. The Court then assigned the Commission on Human Rights to take over the investigation.
On March 15, three months ago and almost a year after the order, the CHR submitted its report to the Supreme Court, which includes the filing of criminal charges against a Maj. Harry A Baliaga Jr., identified by a busboy in Hapag Kainan as one of Burgos’ captors. Another witness identified Baliaga as an officer assigned to the Bravo Company of the 56th Infantry Division. According to the CHR, “Most, if not all the actual abductors would have been identified had it not been for what is otherwise called as evidentiary difficulties shamelessly put up by some police and military elites.”
Jonas Joseph T. Burgos may or may not be a member of the New People’s Army. His mother is unwilling to say otherwise. Some of his friends admit he may have once been part of the movement. Newsbreak Magazine claims sources who have put Jonas among the members of the communist movement in Bulacan, the same area where more than 20 activists (including UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño) were either killed or abducted in the last decade.
Members of the movement, some of them rebel returnees, identify Burgos as “Ka Ramon,” an intelligence officer for the NPA. “Ka Ramon” is the same name General Hermogenes Esperon gave Jonas Burgos in a May 14, 2007 document submitted to the CHR. In his testimony before the Court of Appeals, Lt. Col. Melquiades Feliciano, commander of the 56th IB, testified that “Ka Ramon” was on the military’s Order of Battle – the list of all enemies of the state selected for neutralization.
When Burgos was dragged out of Ever Gotesco Mall screaming “aktibista lang ako,” a security guard took down the number of the getaway car, TAB 194, later traced to the plate of a vehicle impounded by the AFP’s 56th IB.
The AFP has offered a range of reasons why the plate number of a confiscated vehicle in its custody ended up decorating the tailgate of a car racing down Commonwealth Avenue carrying the missing Jonas Burgos. AFP officials said the plate could have been stolen by members of the NPA to frame the AFP. They said the illegal logger from whom they snatched the car may have had a grudge on the military, and found a way to install the plate on the abductors’ vehicle. They said the battalion was away during the incident, leaving the compound open to robbers.
Edita Burgos says she does not understand the goals and methods of the New People’s Army, but she knows her son, and all she wants is to have him back. He is a Filipino and a citizen, rebel or no rebel. She has stood before reporters and human rights reporters from Manila to Geneva, holding up a photo of her lost son, the boy she says is most like his father, press freedom icon Joe Burgos.
President Aquino says he has not forgotten Jonas Burgos. He says they are looking for him. He says, at the very least, they want to know what happened to him. When he released the Morong 43 last December, he talked about Jonas Burgos.
The word “impunity” has been used many times in the last decade, to describe a state where murderers go about their bloody business, with no fear of capture or accountability. It was a state that Aquino promised to end with his presidency. Yet impunity does not need a small woman in a blue dress to applaud the work of butchers, or to command the massacre of the enemy. All impunity needs to flourish is the awareness that justice is unlikely, and that those in power have concerns more important than the death of a journalist in Palawan. As of March this year, 45 extrajudicial killings have been documented under Aquino’s watch, according to the group Karapatan.
If the facts prove true, and Jonas was indeed abducted as a member of the New People’s Army, there is a reason his family is willing to add the possibility of murder to this seventh complaint. In 2007, Bulacan farmer Raymond Manalo and his brother escaped from what he described as months of torture when he was caged, beaten, burned and made to drink his own urine by members of the Armed Forces, in a testimony that the Supreme Court described as harrowing and believable. Manalo claimed he saw the rapes of UP students Empeño and Cadapan, as well as the murder of another farmer. Edita Burgos knows this. Her sons know this. And so she says she believes he is still alive, all the while admitting that many times, she is afraid he is cold and hungry.
Today, Edita Burgos goes to court. The numbers of those who used to fill the streets in protest have dwindled. A few go with her, a little more than a dozen, a motley few with tired eyes. They are the mothers and brothers and sisters of the lost, all silent, all searching for their own Jonases, all willing to stand behind Edita Burgos, holding up placards with the face of Jonas Joseph T. Burgos, 41.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.