by Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com
NEW YORK — The mother of activist Jonas Burgos appealed to Filipinos in the United States to help in finding her son who has been missing since April 2007.
“You are here thousands of miles away but it does not mean that you can’t do anything. You can pray for the disappeared. You can lend a helping hand,” Edith Burgos told the crowd in a townhall forum at the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center in Queens.
“You could provide big help, not in the form of money but appeals to your congressmen to stop from sending military aid to the Philippines that is used by the government to kill Filipinos and oppress us,” she said.
Burgos spoke candidly about her family’s plight since Jonas Burgos, 36 and a community organizer with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (a peasant movement in the Philippines), was abducted by identified elements of the Philippine military in broad daylight from a Quezon City mall on April 28, 2007. Jonas Burgos was apparently whisked away while shouting “Aktibista lang po ako!” (I’m only an activist!) before being thrown into a military truck.
“You cannot imagine what goes through a mother’s head, knowing that at any moment of the day, her son is being tortured,” Burgos continued, drawing tears from the audience.
Burgos is the widow of the late Filipino press freedom hero Jose Burgos. She arrived in New York to start her national speaking tour in the US. She will also travel to Minneapolis, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles before returning to the Philippines.
“I have accepted my family’s role here. At the end of the day, I think that Jonas was able to do the mission he was asked to do by being lost, by being disappeared because now he is the face of the disappeared in the Philippines,” Burgos told the Asian Journal.
“I have accepted Jonas’ fate. I just want to know if he is still alive or if he is already with the Lord. We have to be given the dignity to grieve. I have forgiven the abductors, the kidnappers, the torturers,” Burgos added.
Burgos was accompanied by Mervin Toquero, a staff member of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), who reported about the “human rights crisis” in the Philippines.
“We believe Arroyo’s drive to stay in power is the real reason there are human rights violations in the Philippines today,” Toquero said.
“These things are happening in the Philippines and we must not be passive and we must not allow these to hap-pen,” Burgos added.
After the panel discussion, an open forum revealed the raw sentiments of the Filipino community in the area.
“We may not be in the Philippines, but we are not helpless. We still have a role to play,” stated Attorney Merit Salud, Advocacy Director for Region 1 of the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA).
“We formed GMA WATCH precisely to lift US participation on the human rights crisis in the Philippines, on the basis that as US tax-payers, our dollars are funneled to the Philippine military as US military aid,” Bernadette Ellorin explained. “The GMA administration is the fourth largest recipient of US monetary aid in the world.”
GMA WATCH is a national grassroots advocacy network of Filipino and human rights organizations in the US that was spawned shortly after US Congress took note on the rate of extrajudicial killings and abductions in the Philippines last March with a US Senate hearing. The local organizing group in New York is the NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP).
“She simply needs to go. More important than know-ing who will replace her is the collective mission to remove her from office. In fact, if they say GMA WATCH, I say GMA OUST,” Burgos said.
The following Monday, NYCHRP facilitated a visit between Burgos and UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings and Summary Executions Philip Alston at New York University.
Burgos thoroughly updated Alston on her son’s case since his high-profile 2007 report on the Philippines, implicating the Philippine military. Burgos also expressed the lack of effort by the Arroyo government, by way of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), to address her son’s case.
“The CHR has arrogantly dismissed Jonas’ case, when they have told the world and the United Nations that they intend to sincerely address the human rights crisis in the Philippines,” stated Burgos to Alston in his office.
Burgos’ report to Alston was a striking contradiction to the report of Philippine Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who flew to New York last fall to update Alston and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the measures the Arroyo government was taking to resolve the country’s human rights crisis.
After her meeting with Alston, Burgos proceeded to visit Elaine Pearson, director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch in Manhattan.