FIRST PERSON | ‘I will pay them back, says the Lord’


April 28, 2021, 14 years after the abduction of Jonas Joseph T. Burgos, he is remembered and sorely missed.

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. Fourteen years after his abduction, Jonas’ passion to help the poor is brought to fore, especially now that ordinary citizens are taking the 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.

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

Edith Burgos, mother of Jonas. (Photo courtesy of Free Jonas Burgos Movement Facebook page)

Sensitive to the difficulties of ambulant vendors, Jonas would exchange his father’s slippers with the worn out slippers of a poor tajo vendor.

As a college student, Jonas, an agriculture student in the Benguet State University, would share his harvest with his fellow students and the poor families living near the University campus. When a powerful earthquake struck on July 16, 1990, and they were isolated in BSU, he together with his fellow students put up a Community kitchen for those trapped in the university who ran out of food. We learned how Jonas organized his dorm mates, harvested the available crops in their gardens, prepared the food and shared the food 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 now running community pantries. It makes the family worry, however, that they would be profiled, labeled and later abducted. Based on the human rights records of this government, it is not farfetched. Even retired general Hermogenes Esperon 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 thanks to a court order. Jonas continues to remain missing.

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? 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.

The labeling or red tagging cannot deter our response to “Love your neighbor as Christ loves you.” No matter if those who label, though schooled and aware, defy the 8th commandment. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” We have confidence, after all “I will pay them back,’ says the Lord“ (Romans 12:19) (

*The author is the mother of disappeared activist, Jonas Burgos.

Share This Post