Manila, August 3 — I was privileged to have a complimentary ticket because all tickets were sold out for the premiere showing of the film Burgos at the Cinemalaya Film Festival at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. The independent film Burgos, directed by Joel Lamangan from Ricardo Lee’s screenplay, was presented as the closing film for the festival. The sudden heavy downpour with its consequent flash floods and traffic jams did not deter the hundreds of people determined to see the film.
Burgos is the story of Edita Burgos, the mother of activist and agriculturist Jonas Burgos who was abducted and disappeared by the military last April 28, 2007. It is the telling of her journey, both personal and political, to seek the truth and demand justice for her missing son. It is a declaration of a mother’s love and stubborn hope – expressed when she goes before the courts, when she prays to her God, when she confronts the military and when she comforts and is comforted by the other many families of the disappeared.
In her opening speech for the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines last July 19, Edita Burgos gave her SOMA, her State of a Mother’s Affairs, and highlighted the issue of enforced disappearances in the Philippines with her own missing son. She had counted right up to the day, “Today is the 82th day of the 7th year of my son’s disappearance.”
Burgos is also the story of a country where political activists like Jonas become targets of a government and its state agents bent on the repression and elimination of any and all forms of critical dissent, including the many forms of serving the poor and the marginalized. What happened to Jonas is not an isolated incident; rather, it is part of the government’s counter-insurgency operation that has hunted down activists, communities and people’s organizations (also known as non-combatants). The results: continuing human rights violations from extrajudicial killings to political detentions to enforced disappearances. Burgos shatters the myth that all is well in our country. It is meant to tell those who are still in denial that YES, there are lots of things that are terribly wrong in our country—and that there are names for them: repression, poverty, fascism, impunity, loss of sovereignty, and so on.
While we may intellectually understand the pain that the mothers of the disappeared feel, we do not know the depths of the ache and painful longing that mothers carry in their hearts and bodies. It is pain we hope we never have to feel or that we would never wish on anyone else.
The horrors of the Marcos dictatorship did not end with the ouster of Marcos. Post-Marcos governments, including the present government, continued with the gross human rights violations and counter-insurgency operations while they maintained the trimmings of democracy. Jonas disappeared under the Arroyo watch and a change of government under Noynoy Aquino has not brought any hope of justice for Jonas.
Burgos is for the many Filipinos (and others) to know and understand that yes, enforced disappearances happen in “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” Hundreds of men and women activists, from all sectors and classes, have been abducted and rendered missing under the Marcos and post-Marcos governments. Their mothers and their families have searched for them and will continue to search for them because that is what mothers do, that is what families do. Someone once told me: “Kung ang aso o pusa nga, kapag nawawala, hinahanap mo, tao pa kaya? Anak mo pa kaya?”
In Edita Burgos, I see Mommy Tayag, the mother of missing deacon Carlos Tayag, and Mommy Lagman, the mother of missing newspaperman Hermon Lag- man — two other mothers whose sons were disappeared during the Marcos dictatorship. Rendered missing because like Jonas, they were actively helping the people and exercising their legitimate right to dissent. In Edita Burgos, I also see Mommies Cadapan and Empeno, mothers of the UP students disappeared under the Arroyo government. And I also see the children, Aya Santos, daughter of the missing peace consultant of the National Democratic Front Leo Velasco, and May Wan Dominado, daughter of the missing community activist Luisa Posa Dominado, and Yumi Burgos, daughter of the missing Jonas Burgos – all who continue to search and, hoping against hope, wait for their parents to come home.
Is there hope? At the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, Aya Santos met delegate Samuel Villatoro whose father, Guatemalan labour leader Amancio Villatoro, disappeared in 1983. It took 29 years for Samuel to find and identify the remains of his father in a mass grave in a military camp in Guatemala. He has found a younger sister in Aya and he said, “That is why my family came out to the public and announced we were able to identify my father because we want to keep the hope for every family of the disappeared that they may someday find their missing loved ones. We just have to keep on looking.”
We just have to keep on looking.
For more information on the Families of the Desaparesidos for Justice, visithttp://desaparesidos.wordpress.com/