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Opinion

Refusing to forget Jonas

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Aktibista ako!” cried the young man as four armed men and a woman seized him, while he was having lunch at a fastfood place in a busy mall in Quezon City. The abductors dragged him out; later, a waitress would identify him, through a photo, as Jonas Burgos. Another witness, a security guard, told the police how Jonas, still shouting for help, was shoved by the armed men into a maroon Toyota Revo with plate number TAB 194.

The incident happened 14 years ago: on April 28, 2007. To this day, however, Jonas remains missing. He is the son of Jose Burgos Jr. and Edita Tronqued, both active in the anti-dictatorship struggle as courageous journalists. At the time of his disappearance, Jonas was managing the family farm in Bulacan. He also held farm-productivity seminars for Bulacan farmers.

Since then, Edith Burgos has tirelessly exhausted all legal/judicial means and implored people in power to help her find Jonas and punish his abductors. To no avail.

Reason: the military leadership refuses to cooperate in the investigation. They disobeyed orders issued both by the Court of Appeals, which found the Philippine Army accountable for the crime, and the Supreme Court which, in July 2011, ordered the AFP to produce Jonas. The tribunal noted the AFP Judge Advocate General’s “deliberate refusal” to submit documents on his case. Until now, nobody has been cited for contempt of court.

Thus, last April 28, Edith wrote:

“Jonas is remembered, more dearly now, than ever before. The abductors and brains of this cruel inhumanity of enforced disappearance have failed in their attempt to erase the memory of Jonas and how he loved his poor countrymen.”

Today, in fact, “Jonas’ passion to help the poor is brought to fore, especially now that ordinary citizens are taking radical, creative initiative to cope with hunger amidst government failure to provide for the most basic need of food for the poor. The community pantry initiative has brought back memories of Jonas.”

If Jonas were around today, his mother mused, he too would have organized a community pantry, but their family would’ve worried that “they would be profiled, labeled and later abducted.” Reading that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. had made an ominous statement about the community pantry organizers, she remembered something: Back in 2007, when Esperon was AFP chief, he had refused to provide her lawyer a document that “would have helped us find Jonas,” she said.

Refusing to forget, Edith would write every year about her family’s as well as friends’ anguish. In 2019, she reported that presidents Gloria M. Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III had “failed to surface Jonas even if they promised they would help. Thus, it would be easy to conclude they are part of the cover-up.”

Last year, she wrote: “We reiterate, the Supreme Court resolved that the Philippine Army is responsible for the abduction of Jonas. It has been more than six years and the order of the SC for Jonas to be returned to his family has not been complied with. Such is the justice system we are faced with.”

This is how Edith remembers him:

“Even as a child, Jonas would take his food from the dining table to give this to a neighbor – his friend who usually had rice sprinkled with soy sauce for his meals.

“Sensitive to the difficulties of ambulant vendors, he would exchange his father’s slippers with the worn-out slippers of a poor taho vendor.

“As a college student, an agricultural student in Benguet State University, he would share with fellow students and the poor families living near the campus. When a powerful earthquake struck Baguio on July 16, 1990 and they were isolated in BSU, Jonas and his fellow students put up a community kitchen for those trapped in the university who had run out of food.

“We learned how Jonas organized his dorm mates, harvested the available crops in their gardens, prepared the food and shared (it) with everyone for several days, until help arrived. Jonas’ professor, whom we met 18 years after this happened, told us how he treasured this memory, confident that these students were the hope of the country.

“If Jonas were here today, he too would be just as active and selfless as those who are running the community pantries. It (would) make the family worry, however, that they would be profiled, labeled and later abducted. Based on the human rights record of this government, (this) is not farfetched. Even retired general Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said this about the organizers… ‘They were only being observed… we also like to look into possible participation of personalities…’

“This is the same general who refused to provide our lawyer with the provost marshal report about the abduction of Jonas, claiming it was just an administrative investigation. The report, concluded a few days after the abduction, contained information that could have helped us find Jonas. It was only years after that we saw a copy [of it], thanks to a court order.

“We have heard in a homily that ‘When a rich person gives to the poor, he is called a saint. But when a poor person gives to the poor, he is called a communist.’ Could this be the reason why Jonas as well as hundreds, nay thousand others, were taken [away]? That they were poor and yet they could give of themselves? The sprouting of community pantries all over the country, initiated not by the moneyed but by those who have less, is proof that the less one has, the more generous he is because he knows what it is like to have nothing.

“Fourteen years have passed, justice is still elusive. Family and friends continue to suffer from the absence of Jonas. Yet we remain steadfast in our demand for justice and the return of Jonas. We remember and shall not forget as we continue to let Jonas live in our actions.”

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Email: [email protected]

JONAS BURGOS

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