By Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/Asianjournal.com
SAN FRANCISCO — Filipino Americans and peace-loving citizens from different races united together in solidarity last March 15 at the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center in San Francisco to discuss the continued rise of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances.
The gathering also coincided with the month-long US speaking tour of Edith Burgos, the mother of agriculturist and activist Jonas Burgos who is missing.
As of December 2007, almost 900 victims of extrajudicial killings and nearly 300 victims of forced disappearances in the country have been documented since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took office. This has been the subject of numerous reports submitted by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, World Council of Churches, the EU Council and EU Parliament and other human rights advocates all over the world.
Last year, professor Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Reporter on Extrajudicial Killings and Summary Execution, submitted three reports on the Philippines pointing out the military’s direct role in human rights violations against social activists, interfaith leaders, human rights volunteers, community leaders, legislative advocates and civilian communities.
The Arroyo government still has to take significant steps to stop the extrajudicial killings. In August 2006, Arroyo under the guidance of former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, established an investigating commission. A report was completed in January 2007, and determined that the “killings of activists and media personnel is pursuant to an orchestrated plan by a group or sector with an interest in eliminating the victims, invariably activists and media personnel.”
The commission also concluded that there is evidence pointing at some elements and personalities in the armed forces, particularly with General Palparan, as the responsible figure for the killings and disappearances. However, the Human Rights Watch was unable to uncover a single case of apparent extrajudicial killing in recent years for which a member of the armed forces was successfully prosecuted.
Where is Jonas Burgos?
Jonas Burgos, 36, is the son of the late Filipino press freedom fighter Jose Burgos, founder of the popular We Forum and Malaya newspapers, and was a staunch anti-Martial Law advocate. The young Burgos is also a land rights activist who was affiliated with the Alyansang Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon (AMGL, or Alliance of Peasants in Central Luzon), a local affiliate of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, or Peasant Movement of the Philippines).
Jonas was reportedly abducted by elements of the Philippine military in April 2007 in a mall in Quezon City. His case has become one of the highest profiled politicallymotivated abduction cases in the Philippines today. To date, however, his entire family continues to be politically harassed for their advocacy efforts, while Mrs. Burgos has gone to the UNHRC in Geneva and other institutions appealing for international support and intervention on behalf of victims of forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations.
“What did my son do to deserve (this) abduction,” Mrs. Burgos said. “He is a generous person and believed that you can’t share what you do not have.” The Burgos family has endlessly talked to authorities, followed leads and information, but still yet to find one solid truth that can lead them to Jonas’s whereabouts. “They abduct people for the flimsiest reason, to instill fear to all who protest against the government,” she said.
Taking a stand, taking action
Mrs. Burgos also talked about the actions they took on behalf of all those who disappeared and those whose rights were violated. Activities and programs in the past year included “Light a Candle for Jonas,” the 100th Day Walk which marked the 100 days Jonas has disappeared, an artist forum, a concert entitled Huling Balita, and a series of 30-second-documentary films made by various filmmakers.
According to Mrs. Burgos, “Disappearance is the worst violation in human rights because the effect does not only stop on the victim alone.” She also asked others to help by giving a little, by being involved. This includes talking to political figures, writing to them, sending letters to the media and public, to send a petition to stop supporting and funding Philippine government and its military. During the forum, a petition to Cong. Barbara Lee was passed around for the attendees to sign. “Please be heard,” she appealed “in the Philippines, our voices cannot be heard.”
Mrs. Burgos also remarked that the Philippine government is in denial. “They deny that there are disappearances in the Philippines. Arroyo has a burden in responding to us, but she is more concerned about other issues, like the ZTE deal.”
The fight to find Jonas and the other desaparecidos continue. “A mother cannot give up,” she said. “The rule of the jungle is not to get in between a mother and her cub — and it’s a jungle out there.”