A few weeks after the abduction of my son Jonas, I joined a group of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances along with a few priests and nuns to have a dialogue with a number of bishops.
We were instructed that only our spokesperson was to speak on our behalf. He was the late Father Joe Dizon (a well-known, well-loved and respected human rights defender in the Philippines).
Thus we were all silent as he delivered his appeal for the bishops to make a definitive statement on enforced disappearance.
The term of former president Gloria Arroyo saw more than 300 recorded victims of enforced disappearance, not counting unreported incidents which we consider more than the reported ones.
You can imagine my surprise when a member of the bishops’ council responded with “We will not be swayed by your histrionics. Only a few persons who go to the streets claim that there are people who disappear now. They are communists who are rabble-rousers and are heard because they are loud and rowdy. There is no such thing as human rights violations, more so involuntary disappearances now.”
Unable to stop myself from raising my hand, trembling, I did and I was recognized. With a quivering voice, I said “Your Excellencies, I am here because my son was disappeared. I am not lying. If you just ask my companions, those who are here today, they will tell you their sons, your sons are being stolen, our daughters, your daughters are being raped and families, we are being tortured.
“We are here to beg you for guidance and support. If you our fathers brand us as communists, a word we cannot even fully understand, and thus refuse to believe us, where are we to go for guidance?”
There was a hush. My tears started to fall and I could hear a sob. A sniffle escaped someone’s lips and I cannot now remember what else transpired, what I remember was that I could not control my sobbing when I sat down.
That incident impacted on my life. I still bear the scar of the sting caused by the branding.
Enforced disappearance will always be a crime. It will always be evil. It will always be a sin. This makes me wonder why some people of the cloth and the veil refuse to take a position against this crime against humanity and announce that position.
Since then, it would always be a source of great joy when a bishop, a priest or a religious would speak out on behalf of, or in solidarity with, victims of human rights violations. Deep in my heart the prayer would be that there would be one unified voice from the shepherds.
One cannot imagine the joy when “Rejoice and Be Glad,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ pastoral exhortation was proclaimed on July 9.
Finally, a blueprint of “how” as a Filipino Catholic, as a Filipino Christian, or just as a Filipino who desires peace and forgiveness, caught in adverse situations, and today urgently, within the context of priests being brutally murdered, nuns being persecuted, the opposition being vilified, daily killings, “slut-shaming,” exacerbated by the fact that the protectors are the perpetrators and the leaders, the abusers should respond.
However, a blueprint is only as good as the extent to which it is used as a guide. The only “next step” to the CBCP’s statement is for the people to respond.
The framework is provided, as it has always been there, such as the Beatitudes, yet unless this is enfleshed by us, expressed in our daily life, we will be but an accomplice. Easily we sin by omission.
Walk on water when no help is in sight; respond with a blessing when insulted; be gentle and patient when slandered and persecuted; go through the conflict; when dealing with those who call themselves Christians but are seduced by empty promises, don’t bother with divisions, the authentic ones will be recognized; be that good Samaritan amidst those labeled as ‘non-humans’ and the stigmatized; open our eyes, ears and hearts to the suffering poor; pray, fast and do penance.
Then like St. Therese of Lisieux, let us stand “under the cross and catch the blood that flows from the wounds of Christ” and offer these for the conversion of those who threaten to destroy our beloved Philippines.
If we do not act and do our part, we forfeit our right to demand a just and peaceful world.
Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen — believed to be soldiers — abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing.