“Why do such human rights violations persist with impunity even under the Aquino administration?” – Fr. Rex Reyes, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP)
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle called on those who have custody of Jonas Burgos to release the missing activist.
Tagle celebrated the Mass April 25 at the Minor Basilica Church, more popularly known as Quiapo Church, marking the sixth year of the disappearance of Jonas. The family of Jonas was joined by relatives of other victims of enforced disappearances, members of human rights groups, religious and other supporters.
In his homily, Tagle said in Filipino: “I’m calling on those holding Jonas and many others who are being searched by their mothers, fathers and siblings, you will face God,” Tagle said. “And not only Jonas. There are many others. Some are here but it seems they are not here, (they are) ignored, neglected, as though they are not here,” Tagle added.
Jonas, son of press freedom fighter Jose Burgos Jr., was abducted on April 28, 2007 at Ever Gotesco mall in Quezon City. A recent ruling of the Court of Appeals held the military, particularly the Philippine Army, responsible for his disappearance.
Tagle said there are people who do not only bring bad news but who also inflict it on others, causing them pain. The cardinal said, “God will correct all the wicked things that man would not want to correct.”
Meanwhile, Tagle called on those who are losing their heart to remain steadfast.
Sitting in the front row during the Mass, Mrs. Burgos shed tears as she listened.
“There is sadness, there is pain but there is God. He is hope.”
After the homily, Mrs. Burgos thanked Tagle. “Your words are like water who quenched our thirst,” Mrs. Burgos said. “After this Mass, it is as if our wounds are healed.”
In tears, Mrs. Burgos admitted the last six years was difficult. She said that when she saw the photo of Jonas, it was apparent that her son suffered. “I told myself, could I endure another six years?” Mrs. Burgos said.
In that photograph, Jonas looked tired. A black handkerchief was tied around his neck. The photo and classified documents allegedly with the Philippine Army are among the pieces of evidence submitted by Mrs. Burgos to the Supreme Court this month. In her petition before the high court, Mrs. Burgos calls for the reopening of the case in the light of the new pieces of evidence.
“Still, it is a blessing to know that he has suffered,” Mrs. Burgos said. “Everything is grace.”
Bigger than Jonas
Mrs. Burgos said: “It is not only Jonas. It is bigger than Jonas.”
Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn Cadapan; Lorena Santos, daughter of Leo Velasco; Ipe Soco, son of Gloria Soco; Lolita Robinos, mother of Romulus Robinos, were among the relatives of the disappeared who also came to attend the Mass.
“We will stay,” Mrs. Burgos said. “We will not go away until we find the desaparecidos.”
Speaking after the Mass, Fr. Rex Reyes of the End Impunity Alliance said that in a span of two years of President Noynoy Aquino’s presidency, Karapatan documented 137 victims of extrajudicial killing, 14 of enforced disappearance, 72 of torture, 269 of illegal arrest.
“Why do such human rights violations persist with impunity even under the Aquino administration?” Reyes, also general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), asked.
“It is perhaps because no one is held accountable, prosecuted and convicted. It is perhaps because of the promotion of the violators to higher and more powerful positions were done, as if to encourage the commission of such heinous acts. It is perhaps nothing has been sincerely done and worse, state security forces are emboldened to commit atrocities over and over again knowing they can get away with these,” Reyes said.
He said, “the occurrence of such violations in the country emanates from the state policy to muzzle principled dissent and the exercise of our rights, as embodied in the operational plans of the government.”
Following the Mass, the Burgos family and other members of the Desaparecidos, an organization of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances, held a symbolic action outside the Church.
They held photographs of their loved ones and wore bandanas with the slogan “Stop Enforced Disappearances!” The bandanas were inspired by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina in the 70’s. The mothers of the disappeared went regularly to Plaza de Mayo wearing bandanas and carrying the photos of desaparecidos to remind the military government of their missing sons and daughters.
“It is painful that after six years, Jonas is still missing; but it is atrocious that no one was prosecuted among those who abducted and are still hiding him, even as the Court of Appeals already considered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) responsible and Maj. Harry Baliaga accountable,” Santos, secretary general of Desaparecidos, said.
The group challenged the Aquino administration to uphold the law it signed four months ago – the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012 – and to punish all the perpetrators of such crimes. (With reports from Janess Ann J. Ellao)