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Like the Widow Before the Unjust Judge, a Mother Seeks Justice for Her Missing Son

by Rebecca C. Asedillo

Dr. Edith Burgos who is searching for her 38-year old missing son, Jonas, abducted from a busy mall in Manila on April 28, 2007 by four armed men and a woman.
Dr. Edith Burgos who is searching for her 38-year old missing son, Jonas, abducted from a busy mall in Manila on April 28, 2007 by four armed men and a woman.
Image by: Kathy L. Gilbert/UMCOM

"Sometimes I wonder if he has a blanket or a pillow, or if he is being fed," said Dr. Edith Burgos, her calm voice belying the anguish that only a mother whose son is missing could know.  "I wonder if he is being tortured right now even as I speak."

Burgos, widow of maverick Filipino journalist Jose Burgos, continued, I feel like the widow before the unjust judge [Luke 18]. She persisted until she received justice. I speak out to keep the issue alive."

An educator and a consultant on biotechnology, Burgos spoke at the Asia Pacific track of Ecumenical Advocacy Days ( held March 7-10, 2008 in Washington, DC. Global Ministries supports this yearly event and participates in the Asia Pacific Forum of Church World Service, a group which meets twice a year and facilitated the Asia Pacific track.

Searching for a Son and Speaking Out
Burgos' 38-year old missing son, Jonas was abducted from a busy mall in Manila on April 28, 2007 by four armed men and a woman.  Manager of his family's organic farm, Jonas had provided technical training on organic farming to farmers affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) or the Philippine Peasant Movement. He also taught farmers about their rights and was critical of the government. The Philippine government has labeled the KMP as a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Burgos noted that those who are critical of the government are often tagged as communists or terrorists.

Almost a year after the abduction and despite wide media publicity on her son's case and appeals to various Philippine government bodies, Burgos is still trying to find her son. In the meantime, a police officer who helped the family trace the van into which her son was dragged has been relieved from his post.  Also she and her daughter Virginia Ann realized that they were being followed and, for their own safety, quit their jobs.

Despite the risks, Burgos is on a mission to speak out not only for her Jonas, but for the many Jonases in the Philippines who have no one to speak for them. "When people are silent, when nobody talks, the victims are forgotten."

Human Rights Violations in the Philippines
Burgos commented, "Enforced disappearance is the worst kind of human rights violation because its effects are far reaching…not only on the abducted who is taken out of the protection of the law and is thus vulnerable to the most inhuman treatment, but also on the relatives and friends of the abducted who must suffer the agony of uncertainty about the fate suffered by the loved one."

The 2007 U.S. State Department Report on the Philippines human rights practices states: "At year's end the domestic NGO Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND) documented 35 victims of involuntary disappearance: five were found alive, two were found dead, and 28 remained missing. FIND suspected government forces in the majority of these cases, while unidentified armed men were suspected in the remaining cases. …no arrests had been made at year's end."1

Global Ministries has expressed its concern over the deterioration of human rights in the Philippines in recent years. On December 5, 2007, Bishop Felton E. May, Global Ministries' interim general secretary, appealed to the U.S. Congress to limit the amount of military aid to the Philippines and attach human rights conditions to the entire aid package.2 Last year, Bishop Solito Toquero of the Manila Area came to Washington, DC with a delegation from the Philippines to air their concerns and lobby against US military aid to the Philippines.

While military aid to the Philippines was not decreased, the appropriations bill attached conditions to the release of a portion of the aid on certification by the US State Department that the Philippine government is adhering to certain recommendations by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. These recommendations include the investigation and prosecution of military personnel "who have been credibly alleged to have committed extrajudicial executions or other violations of human rights."

The Power of Prayer and Church Action
As she speaks to groups from coast to coast in the United States, Burgos admits that sometimes she feels like she is swinging on an emotional pendulum. "On the one hand, I feel I am in God's hand; on the other, I sometimes feel helpless." 

A lay member of the Roman Catholic Order of Carmelites, Burgos fervently believes in the power of prayer. "Only prayer can bring Jonas home," she said.

She also believes that speaking out has a multiplier effect:  Speaking to concerned members of the church, she affirmed,  "If you speak out for us, that will have a big impact on the Philippine government. It could stop the killings and stop the disappearances."




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Date posted: Mar 20, 2008