MANILA, Philippines–Edita Burgos still lives with the hope that her missing son, farmer-political activist Jonas Burgos, will one day knock on her door and announce that he’s home.
But after seven and a half years of searching, which included examining yet-to-be identified tortured bodies, the 71-year-old mother is prepared to accept the worst.
“We are idealistic in the sense that we still hope to find him, and realistic to accept the possibility that he could already be gone,” Edita said in an interview, after taking the stand at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in the arbitrary detention case against Army Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr.
Baliaga was declared responsible for the enforced disappearance of Jonas in the investigation report of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and in the decision of the Court of Appeals in the habeas corpus and amparo petitions filed by Edita.
“I’m not angry with him,” Edita said. “I’ve already forgiven. But we are here to find the truth. Just like a mother gets angry when a child breaks something. The anger will melt away but the child still has to clean up the mess.”
The prosecution on Thursday presented Edita as the first witness to identify Baliaga, to talk about the abduction and subsequent search for Jonas and to prove damages.
The cost of searching for Jonas has run up to millions, using up the family’s savings, Edita’s retirement benefits, as well as the death and retirement benefits of her late husband, press freedom advocate Jose Burgos Jr.
“The impact of the loss of my son is unquantifiable. You cannot put a price to the broken heart, the broken family, the loss of a son,” Edita said.
Baliaga, sitting on the second row in court, mostly kept his arms crossed and displayed a slight frown while Edita testified.
After the trial, Baliaga said he understood the Burgoses’ grief, but “it seems they also want my mother to feel that way by taking me away from her.”
Baliaga said he was teaching at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City when he was tagged in the abduction and was subsequently assigned to the Army headquarters in Taguig City. He said he liked his PMA post because he was near his family in the Mountain Province.
“Whenever they (Burgoses) look at me, I can see that they’re very angry with me. I’m just hoping that later on, the truth will come out,” Baliaga said.
Asked about this, Edita said, “I was not the one who concluded that he was responsible for the abduction. It was the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. I’m even doing him a favor. I’m giving him the opportunity that they did not give to Jonas, to have his day in court.”
“They took my son’s right to defend himself,” Edita added.
Edita told the court that the family called and sent text messages to Jonas when he did not come home on April 28, 2007.
‘Let’s talk tomorrow’
Jonas only answered the following day and he was incoherent. Edita kept asking where he was and why he did not come home. He only said, “I was taking a bath” and “Sorry, let’s talk tomorrow,” then the line went dead.
After a press conference to announce that Jonas was missing, Edita received a call informing her that her son must have been the man who was kidnapped from the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City.
The Burgoses rushed to the mall and a waitress said she saw Jonas being taken away by a group of about four men and a woman. The mall security guard took down the license plate of the group’s vehicle and it was traced to a vehicle impounded in the camp of the 56th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan province, where Baliaga was then a first lieutenant.
Despite the granting of the habeas corpus and amparo petitions, Jonas has not been located. Edita has sought help from various police headquarters, several congressmen and senators, including now President Aquino.
She sought the assistance from the CHR, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. She also brought her case to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the US Congress and the European Parliament.
“If Jonas was found and he learned that I did not look for him, that would break his heart. I don’t want that to happen. I want him to know that we really looked for him up to the end,” Edita said in the interview.
In 2013, somebody gave Edita a photo showing Jonas after his abduction and confidential military documents on his apprehension and psychosocial processing that the Supreme Court ordered not to be publicly disclosed.
“When I imagine what they must be doing to my son, it’s torture to think that he’s still alive. We still have hope. But if he’s already gone, he’s not suffering anymore, he’s in the hands of God,” Edita said.