SERIES: Countdown to the International Day of the Disappeared (IDD): 20 days to go!
By Conrado de Quiros
First Posted 01:37:00 08/08/2007
It was raining hard toward noon last Monday and they were only a handful of men and women. But that did not deter Edita Burgos and kin and friends from marching from Santo Domingo Church to Welcome Rotunda to remind the world of their search for, well, someone they had not seen for the last 100 days. And to remind the world as well that failing to find him, they would not let go until they found the truth about him or found justice for him. By the time they got to Welcome Rotunda, amid the variously blank, sympathetic and hostile stares of the drivers and passengers of cars and jeepneys, the last belonging to those who minded being inconvenienced by traffic as they dragged their bedraggled carcasses to work, the heavens wept copiously.
Most of the marchers, who had not brought umbrellas, the skies earlier that day promising a good day, kept on, finding it still a good day to do what they had to do. The rains had come at last after having kept away, like justice, from this spot of earth for a long time. In any case, being drenched in furious rain was just another adversity, albeit a minor one, in the struggle to find the precious things that we had lost in this country.
Last Monday was the 100th day since Jonas Burgos was dragged out of a mall in Fairview by armed men while he shouted for the world to help him. To mark it, the marchers wore masks of Jonas’ face. The idea was for 100 persons to wear those masks, but at the height of the rain the persons who stood beneath the Rotunda obelisk could not have been more than 30. No matter. Whether 30 or 100, they could not have pressed their cause more ardently than Leonidas’ 300. Theirs was the same heroic stand against seemingly impossible odds, and barring anyone betraying them, which is not likely, they will probably fare in the end better than Leonidas himself.
Edita Burgos spoke before the gathering, while the face of her son in black-and-white looked back at her from the faces of those who listened under the gray skies and lash of wind and rain. It might have been a scene from some surreal movie drained of color, with only Jonas’ cardboard face glowing whitely against the unsaturated background.
Edita (she is one very brave mother) thanked the people gathered there and those who were not there but who worked tirelessly to not make the world forget about her son. Though bowed by grief over the absence of Jonas, and the fear of the tragic fate that might already have befallen him, she took comfort in the thought that in his absence, Jonas had taken on a bigger presence than he had while he was there. In his silence, his words rang more loudly than they did when he had spoken them. In his abductors’ attempt to thwart his dreams, they had become an irresistible force demanding to be fulfilled.
I listened to her and realized how deeply we owed certain families more than others. Families who have given up so much, not the least the lives of those they held dearest to them, to give life to this country. There were many of them during Marcos’ declared martial law, there are many of them in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s undeclared martial law.
Such a family is the Burgoses. I cannot say I know what they have been through, though I myself became an activist ages ago. I cannot know the depths of fear and deprivation they went through when Joe was fighting what seemed a lonely battle against Marcos, a battle destined only to end in failure or death. I cannot know what depths of grief and deprivation they are going through today, when Jonas has disappeared after fighting what seemed like a lonely battle to uplift the lot of his fellow farmers, a disappearance of a hundred days that could only bode the worst of possibilities.
That is a debt that can never be repaid even after the worst is over for this country.
The Burgoses would tell me that Ferdinand Marcos’ military also branded Jonas’ father, Joe, uncannily in almost the same terms. But then I remembered that Marcos’ military also branded Ninoy Aquino a communist, or at least a communist sympathizer or New People’s Army coddler, following Marcos’ proposition that a Left-Right conspiracy was out to wreck his “revolution from the center.” There is something uncanny, too, about the source of this country’s bane posturing about being the country’s savior. History is full of surprises for those who do not heed it, although they are mere repetitions for those who do.
I looked at the refraction of Jonas’ face in the many faces that wore his mask, and I thought, yes, like Ninoy, “hindi ka nag-iisa” — you are not alone. We are with you, or you are with all of us. We are in you and you are in all of us. Your hopes and your dreams are not yours alone to harbor, the grief and loss your kin must feel are not theirs alone to carry. I do not now remember if the heavens wept as well when this country escorted Ninoy to his resting place, but I remember that it was August, too, a time to bury the august dead.
More than that, I looked at the replication of Jonas’ face in the many faces that wore his mask, and I thought, more than “hindi ka nag-iisa,” “hindi ka naiiba” — you are not different from me, you are me. You are all of us. What happened to you can’t just happen to all of us, it is happening to all of us. As in the stark past of martial law, protest, defiance and worst of all helping others have become heinous crimes deserving of death, and those of us who are guilty of them are presumed to invite it. I remembered, while the skies wept and the FX vans sloshed through the puddles of brown water and the handful of men and women lined up with their Jonas faces before the hooded cameras, what a long procession there was for Ninoy then.
And I wondered what else in this country has disappeared.