Thursday, October 19, 2017

They know where Jonas Burgos is

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Inquirer photo
What a heartbreaking moment it was for Edita Burgos, mother of Jonas Burgos who has been missing for 10 years, when a Quezon City court acquitted Army Maj. Harry Baliaga of arbitrary detention charges last Oct. 12. Baliaga was one of those suspected of involvement in Jonas’ abduction in 2007. Jonas has not been found or heard from since then. His whereabouts are unknown and no one has come forward to say with certainty what has happened to him.

Jonas’ father, the late Jose Burgos, was a press freedom icon who suffered detention. He was the publisher of We Forum and, later, Malaya, stalwarts of the so-called alternative press that challenged the Marcos dictatorship during its waning years and precipitated its downfall.

From the Burgos family’s timeline on Jonas’ disappearance:

April 28, 2007: Jonas Burgos was abducted at about 1:30 p.m. by four armed men and a woman in civilian clothes while he was having lunch at the Hapag Kainan restaurant in Ever Gotesco Mall, Quezon City. Jonas was alone and unarmed. A waitress who saw the forcible abduction positively identified Jonas from a picture shown to her. Jonas is a farmer who manages the family organic farm in Bulacan. Jonas has been giving technical training to members of the Alyansang Magbubukid ng Bulacan (Peasant Alliance of Bulacan), a local chapter of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, since 1999. The Philippine government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have labeled the KMP a “front” organization for the Communist Party of the Philippines.

May 2, 2007: Larry Marquez, a security guard on duty at Ever Gotesco Mall, from where Jonas was abducted, told police that Burgos was dragged by the suspects to a maroon Toyota Revo with plate number TAB 194, as Burgos shouted for help.

May 2, 2007: The Burgos family filed a missing person complaint with the Philippine National Police.

May 4, 2007: In an investigation by the PNP, and through the efforts of the family, the license plate number was traced to a vehicle that was in the custody of the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Bulacan. It was impounded from illegal loggers on June 24, 2006. Senior Supt. Joel Coronel, who led the police investigation, was relieved of his post shortly after he traced the vehicle in Burgos’ abduction to the Army.

The timeline covers almost a decade and tells about the roller-coaster ride that the Burgos family has been through. The family’s experience includes a habeas corpus petition, court hearings, subpoenas, and investigations.

Significantly, in 2013 President Benigno Aquino III ordered a thorough inquiry involving the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation. Still no Jonas. The search and hearings continued. Last Oct. 12, the acquittal was handed down.

From where I watch, the frustration is not so much about the acquittal of someone suspected of having to do with Jonas’ disappearance as it is about seeing all efforts to find him seemingly hitting a dead end. Where to next?

Right after his acquittal, Baliaga sidled up to Jonas’ mother Edita who was in the courtroom. It must have been a discomfiting moment for both, but I want to see a ray of hope in that courtroom moment. With Baliaga free of his legal burdens, might he — innocent or not before God Almighty — want to help find Jonas, as Edita dared to propose?

If not Baliaga, there are other people out there who had something to do with Jonas’ abduction and disappearance. Jonas could not have been taken by aliens from outer space, but by human beings. Who are they, where are they? They, too, have families, so can they not find it in their hearts to send Edita leads, anonymously if need be, so that she may find her son, alive or dead?

It is not too late to make things right, if not legally, at least for the peace of mind of those who are concerned, to lighten the weight on their consciences, but most of all, for the sake of Edita, a widow and mother in search of a missing son.

Try me. In the past, through this column I had made suntok sa buwan (a stab at the moon) calls for one thing or other, and got unexpected results. To borrow the last line from “The Little Prince” of Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “Send me word…” #