New Internationalist

Activists, journalists, human rights workers: missing but not forgotten

It was around lunchtime in a crowded mall, a place of leisure and fun, when a young activist named Jonas Burgos was abducted. Witnesses say he was dragged from the mall to a parked vehicle in broad daylight and in full view of hundreds of people. Investigations point to the military as the culprits. Since that day in April 2007, five years ago, Jonas remains missing.

His mother, Edith Burgos, has gone to all the government agencies that she could possibly seek help from, but the promises ‘to do something about it’ from the powers-that-be turned out to be empty words.

‘I went to all the agencies. I went to the police. I went to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and I was told that it was the intelligence group who abducted him,’ Edith says one quiet afternoon in March inside an office that serves as her safe house. Edith, who has been pointing to the military as responsible for the abduction of her son, has found herself being followed by unknown individuals many times.

But Edith is unfazed. She will keep on searching for her missing son.

‘A simple mother would go all the way to look for her son because that’s what mothers are made of,’ she insists.

Edith says she will spend the rest of her life searching for her son until she finds him, dead or alive. In the deepest recesses of her soul, she knows he is out there, waiting to come home.

But Edith has no illusions that Jonas’ case, and those of hundreds of other missing activists, human rights workers and journalists, will be solved soon. As long as people remain hungry for power, a culture of impunity will remain, she explains.

‘It’s really all about money and greed. People in government would like to stay on for as long as they can. And to do that they must hold to the other powers-that-be, like the United States. To be able to get more aid, they must follow the demands of the donor. One of the demands is that they fight insurgency. They must fight terrorism. What they do is to abduct, kill or get people.’

Indeed, a culture of impunity in the Philippines remains prevalent. Our president, Benigno Aquino III, who ran on the platform of good governance, has yet to fulfil his promise to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.

The numbers are stark and telling: 150 journalists killed since 1986; at least 206 cases of enforced disappearances; and 1,206 cases of extra-judicial killings since 2001, according to data from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and human rights umbrella group Karapatan.

The numbers continue to grow. They represent not just statistics but, more importantly, a denial of victims’ right to justice and redress. And one death, one lost life, is just too many.

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