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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

A ‘desaparecido’ family’s ‘move on’ story

Let history judge Ferdinand E. Marcos, we are told. Right, except that the judgment of history does not take place in the future. It is done in the here and now because the future is for instruction, not for its creation.

In fact, Kris Buntag, a young project worker in Ateneo de Cagayan, had her history written and judged long before these days of outrage over the hero’s burial of a dictator. Today she tells her story in anti-Marcos rallies and the audience listens in awe for it is a narrative that not every family has been privileged with—giving up a loved one’s life for the country.

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We are reminded of the World War II patriot Jose Abad Santos. When he was about to meet his Japanese executioners somewhere in Malabang, Lanao del Sur, he turned to his son and told him: “Do not cry, Pepito. It is an honor to die for one’s country. Not everyone is given that privilege.”

That privilege for the Buntag family came without warning one day in 1984. Kris’ father, Bernardo Buntag Sr., 26 years old at that time, was reading a newspaper in an eatery in Butuan City when three armed men suddenly barged in and approached him, telling him sternly, “Come with us.” Bernardo was supervisor of a group of electric linemen that did work in the city. His companions were threatened not to make any hasty move.

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That was the last ever seen of Bernardo Buntag Sr.; daughter Kris was two years old then, her younger brother one year old. The young father disappeared completely, his whereabouts after that never ever known, his body—or any trace of it—never found. Kris remembers her growing-up years to be filled with memories of her mother crying and searching for clues. Many would come from family friends every now and then.

Her father was suspected of working for the New People’s Army. The same fate had befallen Bernardo’s brother who was arrested by the military and shot to death. Another brother was jailed. The Buntag house in Misamis Oriental was raided purportedly for a reported cache of arms.

Kris’ mother died in July 2009 of leukemia. Today Kris and her brother have come to terms with their orphaned life. She has spent time accessing her father’s files in the Commission on Human Rights to follow up his case as one of Claimants 1081—that numerical reminder harking back to Proclamation 1081 that Ferdinand Marcos issued to declare martial law in 1972.

Kris graduated with a business management bachelor’s degree through the kindness and generosity of relatives who gave her a home in the city. After college, she joined Jesuit Volunteers Philippines and was assigned to teach deaf-mutes in Bacolod City. She taught values education and income-generating projects and, to elementary and high school students, catechism. Later, she was assigned to a relocation site reserved for former Payatas scavengers; there she taught the mothers skills in counting and reading so they could help their own children in school assignments.

Today Kris is in a project that provides educational assistance for urban poor children affected by Tropical Storm “Sendong.” The project is supported by Child Fund Japan. Her work among Sendong survivors takes her regularly to Xavier University Ecoville, a relocation site that the university provided for the urban poor who barely survived that unforgettable tropical storm that wreaked catastrophic havoc in north Mindanao in late 2011.

Kris has given back to the country’s poor what she and her family lost in the Marcos years—the loving presence and steady guidance of a father in children’s growing-up years. Her brother beams with pride seeing the name Bernardo Buntag Sr. etched on the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City.

What does one do with a lost family member, when there is no dead body to mourn, no grave to visit? For most of us who are not as unfortunate as Kris, that is not a question to ask. Clearly, Kris Buntag has moved on. Clearly, it is the Marcoses who have not moved on by refusing to
accept their fate. They should learn from Kris. Shame on them.

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TAGS: desaparecidos, Ferdinand E. Marcos, martial law, Philippine news updates
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