ON APRIL 28, 2007, Jose Luis “JL” Burgos and his family were waiting at home for his older brother, Jonas, to arrive. They were supposed to have a family meeting, which has been a Burgos tradition since the children were young.

That night, however, was different. Jonas would usually inform his family of his whereabouts so that they won’t worry about him. But after a series of unreturned inquiries without signs of Jonas showing up, JL and his family came to a chilling conclusion: Jonas had gone missing.

Jonas Joseph Burgos is an agriculturist and an active member of Alyansang Magbubukid ng Bulacan, a group that promotes privileges and equality for local farmers. He is seen on the forefront of rallies demanding for farmers’ rights, which made him a hot target of local leaders in their province.

It has been more than two years since Jonas disappeared. JL said that his family is still clueless of Jonas’ whereabouts, and anxious of his condition wherever he might be. But for them, giving up was never an option.

A family of advocates

The Burgos household is an intellectual one, with five well-educated children raised by Thomasian parents. Veteran journalist and Malaya founder Jose Burgos Jr., is the family patriarch, who inculcated political and social awareness in his children’s at an early age by exchanging opinions across the dining table.

In 2003, Jose suffered from a stroke, eventually leading to his death on the same year. But JL said that the family remained intact even after his father was gone. Perhaps Jose’s strong personality carried on to his family, which would explain their never-say-die outlook.

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Jose’s second-youngest son, JL was a UST Painting Alumnus. JL was close to finishing his course until he fell short on some academic requirements. Even so, he believes that life’s lessons are best taught outside the classroom.

JL took different jobs before being an active member of Ugat-Lahi, a cultural movement for Filipino artists in 1998. In 2001, he ventured into a new career and started his own “editing house,” eventually becoming the filmmaker and freelance video editor he is today.

JL’s short films usually had a “human rights” motif. But the disappearance of his brother in 2007 affected his outlook, evident in the new direction his films took.

The filmmaker started creating short movies which talked about the grim prospect of “missing” or “abducted” persons.

“I am very close to my family, especially to my brothers. Jonas and my other brother were my usual companions in gimiks (hang outs),” he said. “Until now we are looking for any traces of my brother. Any lead to Jonas’ whereabouts would be very useful for us,” JL said.

Facts, proofs and campaigns

A day after Jonas disappeared, his family received a text message from his mobile phone saying, “pasensiya na ligo lang ako” (sorry, I’ll just take a bath), and was followed by another: “sige, bukas pag-usapan natin” (okay, we’ll talk about it tomorrow). The family tried to call back but to no avail. Soon after, Jonas’ number could no longer be reached.

This only roused more suspicion, forcing the family to call for a press conference to announce that Jonas is missing. Someone then informed the family that Jonas was seized by four armed men and a woman inside a mall. Jonas was apparently heard shouting “aktibista lang po ako!” (I’m just an activist!) while being dragged into a maroon van with the plate number TAB 194.

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The family immediately went to the mall and found the said vehicle. JL said that they also discovered another vehicle with the same plate number, only it was impounded and kept by the military in Bulacan.

JL’s camp also got hold of a list called “order of battle,” which contains the names of people pursued by the military. Jonas’ name was included, with the word “neutralized” beside it, meaning a person was either captured, became their ally or was already killed.

“The military denied existence of such list,” JL said.

This only sparked the Burgoses’ fight against forced disappearances and human rights violation. The family organized the Free Burgos Movement and made JL its spokesperson. JL also became a member of Desaparecidos, a movement founded by families of the abducted.

For JL, art was a vital ally in his advocacy. He made paintings about Jonas and created short films and exhibits about forced disappearances. JL and his friends also made an album called “Huling Balita,” a compilation of songs for the disappeared.

Finding justice

After exhausting all administrative means but to no avail, Jonas’ family decided to file the case before the Supreme Court (SC). On July 24, 2007, SC granted the family’s petition ordering the military to find Jonas and for the Court of Appeals (CA) to conduct hearings on the case.

But luck was not on the Burgoses’ side when the CA decision turned down their appeal for Writ of Amparo (an order issued by a court to protect the constitutional rights of a person) on July 21 last year. The case was then raised to the highest court and is currently pending.

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Given the condition of things, JL said he can’t help but doubt if the government will follow up on its promise of finding Jonas. But with the downpour of support from friends, media, and other organizations, the Burgoses are just hoping that through these, justice will soon be given.

“Maybe these people are helping us because of my father. But more importantly, I believe they have faith in this journey and that we are fighting for a just cause,” JL said.

Up to now the state of Jonas Burgos remains a mystery, but even after two years of relentlessly searching, the family holds on to the belief that their beloved Jonas will come home soon.

“We won’t stop until we find him,” JL said.  

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