Mother of missing activist highlights disappearances in the Philippines

Edita Burgos with Columbans Tommy Murphy (left) Superior General of the Society of St Columban, Frank Nally (right)

Edita Burgos with Columbans Tommy Murphy (left) Superior General of the Society of St Columban, Frank Nally (right)

The mother of a missing activist in the Philippines visited London this week to raise awareness about the number of abductions in her country – more than 200 since the current president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power. Edita Burgos said her son Jonas was abducted by gunmen in broad daylight in a Manila shopping mall on 28 April 2007,  and has not been seen since. She blames the country’s military for complicity in his disappearance, and now coordinates a national campaign for information on the whereabouts of her son, and the other victims of disappearances.

Despite the Philippines being a democratic country, she has never secured access to detention centres where her son could be held or information about their detainees. Speaking at the London house of the Columban Missionary Society house, which has members working in the Philippines, Edita said it is her strong faith that has kept her going. “Nothing happens without a reason” she said “and perhaps I was meant to be a spokesperson on this issue”. She feels God has taken her “where she would rather not go” but she has a steely determination to work for the disappeared that defies her 66 years. A member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, she prays daily and spends at least one hour of each day in silence.

“I am under surveillance but that will not stop my work” she said; “Jonas’ heavenly father loves him so much more than even I do and knowing this brings me great solace even though I know he is probably being tortured”.  But she acknowledged that the abduction has changed her family; “They are all musical, as was Jonas, but I seldom hear them sing now”.

Jonas, who was 36 years old at the time of his abduction, and married with a young child, had studied agriculture at university and was teaching farm workers organic farming techniques. He also helped them struggle for their rights through peaceful means against destructive development. His case serves to highlight the disturbing trend of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines, especially of people who are identified as social activists.
 
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has personally called Edita to give her assurances that the police will aggressively pursue the case. However, little progress has been made and Edita feels the president is “a hypocrite” because she clearly could have found out more, being head of the armed forces of the Philippines.

Edita has testified before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that she believes the military took and still hold her son. Witnesses have come forward claiming that the abductors, who claimed to be policemen but showed no identification, were seen driving into nearby military bases. And, in 2007, a confidential military memo surfaced which showed Jonas’ name in the army's ‘order of battle’, a list of communist insurgents targeted for arrest or elimination. Next to his name was the word “neutralized”. 

The visit was organised by the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines and Amnesty International.


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