Woman brings plight of Philippines 'disappeared' to the UK

By staff writers
October 9, 2009

Edita Burgos, mother of the disappeared Philippines activist, Jonas Burgos, and chair of Desaparecidos (Families of Desaparecidos for Justice), arrives in the UK next week on the first leg of a European tour to highlight the plight of her missing son and other missing persons.

Jonas Burgos was dragged by gunmen in broad daylight from a restaurant in a busy shopping mall in Manila, the Philippines, on 28 April 2007.

Jonas, 36-years-old at the time of his abduction, was an agriculturalist who had been teaching farm workers organic farming techniques. He was also a land rights activist, helping farm workers fight for their rights through peaceful means.

He was affiliated with the Alyansang Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon (Alliance of Peasants in Central Luzon), a local affiliate of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines).

Jonas is the son of the late ‘press freedom icon’ Joe Burgos Jr, a nationally renowned newspaper publisher who, in the words of former President Corazon Aquino, “lit our paths in the dark, long years of martial rule”.

In 2008, Dr Edita Burgos spent a month touring the USA to raise publicity, also meeting with UN Special Rapporteur, Prof Philip Alston, to update him on the case.

Dr Burgos, a lay Carmelite nun, will arrive in the UK on 15 October as part of a European tour to draw attention to the plight of her son and the many others like him.

On 21 October the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines, together with Amnesty International UK and trade union UNISON, will hold a public event at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre at which Dr Burgos will speak to raise awareness of the issue of enforced disappearances in the Philippines. She will also meet with various politicians and speak at other select gatherings.

Dr Burgos said: “I am coming to the UK in the hope that I can help people realise what is happening to good people like my son and many, many others in the Philippines."

She continued: “I want us to elect honest people who will help end disappearances. If we do not put people there who will be sincere in dismantling all the institutions used to abduct people, these disappearances will not end."

“I have forgiven my son's abductors, his torturers, and even their commander-in-chief. I am at peace with the Lord, now I will continue searching for my son. I don’t want to think that he is dead. Our search is made easier when I think that I will find him alive.”

The disappearance of Jonas has drawn significant media attention in the Philippines, and has led to Dr Burgos meeting with prominent domestic and international figures. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo personally called Dr Burgos to give her assurances that the police would aggressively pursue the case. However, little progress has been made since.

Dr Burgos has testified before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that she believes the military took and still hold her son. However, all those implicated have denied involvement.

Witnesses have come forward claiming that the abductors, who claimed to be policemen but showed no identification, were seen driving into to 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 government has since promoted the three officers implicated in the abduction.

“The promotion of these men only confirms the truth in our claim that the government, the state forces, are behind the disappearances,” said Dr Burgos.

Activists say that the case of Jonas serves to highlight the disturbing trend of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines.

In 2007 Jonas Burgos was one of 30 disappeared people documented by the human rights group Karapatan, which estimates that more than 900 activists, journalists, street children, petty thieves and outspoken clergy have been the victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings while the Arroyo administration has been in office.

While the Government lays blame for these killings and disappearances on internal purges in the communist New People’s Army, organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudidical, arbitrary or summary executions, have highlighted military or police involvement in many cases. The sheer numbers of disappeared, alongside the ‘culture of impunity’ which has developed around disappearances and extrajudicial killings, has seen the Arroyo regime heavily criticised for being worse than the Marcos dictatorship.

The Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines was set up in July 2006 in response to the increasing number of political killings and human rights abuses taking place in the Philippines.

Its objectives are: To put pressure on the Philippines Government to stop the political killings and defend human rights in the Philippines; to raise awareness in the UK about political repression in the Philippines with the aim of putting pressure on the Philippines Government to respect human rights; to turn a spotlight on British investment and trade links which benefit from human rights violations in the Philippines; to make links between the issues of poverty and political oppression in the Philippines and the situation of Filipino migrants in the UK.

More on the campaign: www.chrp.org.uk

Follow the Burgos case: http://freejonasburgosmovement.blogspot.com/

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