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5 years of search, 5 years of hope

By Ellen Tordesillas

edith burgosOn April 28, 2007, past noon, Jonas Burgos was at Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City waiting for friends.  Before his friends came three military agents, one was a woman,  approached him and forcibly brought him out to a waiting vehicle. Jonas was never seen after that.

Jonas' mother, Edita, wife of  press freedom fighter Jose Burgos, Jr. (founder of  Malaya) issued the following statement  Thursday:

"April 28, 2012 marks the fifth year of the disappearance of my son, Jonas Burgos.  Jonas' family commemorates this day by looking back at the five years of search.  We recall how we have exhausted every possible peaceful means available to us within the limitations of resources and information.

"We have encountered numerous attempts at individual and institutional cover up and confronted these with more determination to uncover the truth.  The denials, the stone-walling, the labeling, all the lies and even the indifference have only encouraged us to pray some more and to look at others with the eyes of a Christian heart.  Undeterred, our search must go on.

"At every turn of the uphill path of the search, something and someone would somehow turn out to be His Providence supplying what was needed for the moment.  The particular grace would always be on time… just enough, and would, in spite of the pain and seeming helplessness… fuel a renewed vigor to search for the lost son, the lost brother, the lost husband, the lost father.

"We may have been denied our petitions in court.  We may have been perplexed by inaction from the authorities.  We may have been reduced to 'just' a number among those searching for the lost love, relegated to the pages of a report on human rights violations in the country.

" Yet the search has been a journey where hope, enkindled at the very start, has grown and has been nourished.  For indeed, as we have read, heard and believed… grace would abound where trials exist.

We continue looking for Jonas with hope.  God in His Mercy will hear our prayers.

"' Jay hold on, we will not give up.'"

Yes, hope is our weapon in the face government indifference and inaction.

It is also important that we continue to keep tab of every step taken, even the steps not taken.

Last year, the  Commission on Human Rights identified  a junior Philippine Army officer, 1st Lt. Harry Baliaga Jr. , who was then assigned at the Philippine Army's 56th Infantry Batallion in Bulacan.

The identification of Baliaga gave a lie to the continued denial of the military of any involvement in the disappearance of Jonas. It is reported that Baliaga is in detention.

The expose of Baliaga's role in Burgos abduction helped in the dismissal of the case against 2Lt Dick Abletes, who was arrested in March 2007 and  linked to the disappearance of Jonas.

Abletes was  tried in a court martial for "spying". The military's evidence: Amado Guerrero's  1971 "Philippine Society and Revolution"; Victor Corpus' 1990 book, "Silent War"; and "compilation of reading materials on Communism."

On August 22, 2011, after more than four years in detention, Abletes, represented by lawyer Vicente Verdadero, was cleared of the charges against him. He is now assigned at the 6th ID in  Maguindanao.

The campaign against forced disappearances, however, has not moved much.  "The Butcher", retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan has been ordered by the Malolos Regional Trial Court for the 2006 disappearance of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno and farmer Manuel Merino but he remains beyond the reach of the law.

The Philippines has not signed up to now the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance which has been signed by 92 countries, 32 of which have ratified the Convention.

"The UN Convention For the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance is a concrete legal measure which, when put in place, can be a powerful tool to help strengthen governments' capacities to eradicate disappearances, punish the perpetrators and provide truth, justice, redress, reparation and historical memory to victims and their families," Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, secretary general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances.

This coming May 29, Jeremy Sarkin,chairman of the  United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, will be coming to Manila.

AFAD, which is arranging the visit of Sarkin, has requested an appointment with President Aquino for him.

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