The Struggle of Memory Against Forgetting…
"The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." Milan Kundera
28 April 2009 - Today marks the second year of the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, the son of the late Filipino press freedom fighter, Jose Burgos. Jonas was seized by armed men in broad daylight on 28 April 2007 from a mall in Quezon City, Philippines. For two years, we have witnessed not only the pain and suffering of a grieving family but also the incomparable courage and admirable strength of a united family incessantly searching for Jonas, never leaving any stone unturned, employing all peaceful means, using national and international avenues in search for truth and justice. Our hearts bleed for Jonas’ one and only daughter, who, according to her grandmother, Edita, continues to wait for her dear Tati (father or Daddy) and would sometimes ask if Jonas would bring her to school.
Today, on the second year of Jonas Burgos’ disappearance, we have experienced yet another irony of ironies when the top military officer, Jovito Palparan alleged to have been responsible for the spate of killings and disappearances in the country since 2001, joins, on this very day, the ranks of the members of the Philippine House of Representatives – a manifestation of the cycle of impunity in a country which boasts itself as a founding member of the UN Human Rights Council.
The case of Jonas Burgos has become a high-profile case of disappearance in the Philippines not only due to his well-known surname, but especially because at the height of the phenomenon of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the country, his disappearance exemplifies the many other countless and nameless victims of enforced disappearances in the country since the assumption of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to power. The Burgos family has joined the other families of victims of enforced disappearance that occurred since the tyrannical and rapacious Marcos regime until the succeeding administrations not only in their common pain of having lost their loved ones, but also in their unified struggle for truth, justice, redress and collective memory.
Two years have passed and Jonas remains missing. We salute his mother, Edita. By her unrelenting spirit to search for her son, to file a case in court, to use national avenues while maximizing available international mechanisms, telling the world that in the Philippines, all is not well in the human rights front, she has consequently earned the ire of the alleged perpetrators of the disappearance of her son and, thus, has also faced constant danger. Despite Edita’s and her family’s courage and perseverance, truth and justice remain elusive. Nevertheless, Edita’s unrelenting spirit has, in no small measure, unmasked the cover up from the highest post to maliciously hide the truth and to exonerate the perpetrators. No amount of hiding the truth could stop people from pointing their fingers to the real culprits to this treacherous act of disappearing a man deprived of life and liberty because of his option to choose the road less trodden - to organize farmers in their fight for genuine land reform, thus contributing to the gargantuan task of social transformation.
Jonas Burgos’ case met a major setback in July 2008 when the Court of Appeals ruled against his family’s petition for a Writ of Amparo . The verdict stated that there was not enough evidence that the military authorities are the ones responsible for the disappearance. Accordingly, it is non sequitor that if the plate number of the car used to forcibly take Jonas belonged to the military authorities, the latter were the ones who took him. It is frustratingly unfortunate that the Writ of Amparo, a relatively newly promulgated national mechanism for human rights protection in the country, has miserably failed to facilitate the resolution of the country’s very highly projected case of enforced disappearance in recent years.
Despite seemingly insurmountable barriers, the Burgos family has never been cowed into silence and never been paralyzed by fear. The two long years of treading the thorny road to justice did not stop them from searching, from struggling, from fighting for truth, justice, redress and memory. In so doing, they have kept Jonas’ memory alive in their hearts and in the hearts of all freedom-loving men and women. They have continuously struggled, and in the words of Milan Kundera, theirs is a “struggle of memory against forgetting.”
As the Burgos family commemorates the second year of Jonas’ disappearance, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD) once again expresses its solidarity with them and with all families of the disappeared in the Philippines and in the rest of the world. We commend Edita, who, by her very personal experience of losing her son, has become a very courageous human rights defender, whose faith-based advocacy is remarkably amazing. In the Inter-faith Conference on Enforced Disappearance sponsored by AFAD in December 2008, she spoke before the representatives of different church groups and families of the disappeared saying that never did (and does) she nurture hatred in her heart, in fact, she even prayed and continues to pray for her son’s torturers and despite the pain, she had resolved to forgive them without ceasing the struggle to fight for truth and justice for her son and for other victims of enforced disappearances. Deep inside her, she believes that Jonas did not just make a supreme sacrifice of serving his people for nothing. He did it for the love of his country.
On this occasion, AFAD reaffirms its commitment to never again allow this malady to happen. It shall continue to collectively fight against the scourge of enforced disappearance in Asia and in the rest of the world. In so doing, the Federation will continue to give its modest share in the struggle for a world without desaparecidos - a world where no mothers to grieve for their disappeared children, where no children to be orphaned, no more families of desaparecidos to ask the nagging question, " Where are you?"
MUGIYANTO MARY AILEEN DIEZ-BACALSO
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Rms. 310-311 Philippine Social Science Center Bldg.,
Commonwealth Ave., Diliman, 1103 Quezon City