I never knew Jonas Burgos, but I know his mother. Every reporter on my beat does. It’s hard to miss her, the checkered shirt, the small folding umbrella, the black purse with the envelopes stuffed with court papers. Her story has been told in documentaries and theater plays, her face is the face of the search for the lost. She has stood at attention behind the revolving cast of activists howling into protest megaphones, holding posters of her lost boy. Although I have yet to see her throw a tomato at a cardboard cutout or set fire to a grinning effigy, it’s possible that she has. Edith Burgos will do what is necessary to find the son she lost five years ago, and it is the reason she stood by a monument along Edsa yesterday, reminding the world that for as long as she lives, so does Jonas Burgos.
She does not like spotlights, she says. She is happiest standing in the shadow, sharpening pencils for would-be heroes, patting the heads of her frightened sons while their father conducted his written assault on the dictator’s palace. She stands when she must, as she did on the day Marcos’ men came to arrest Jose Burgos, We Forum publisher and father of her five children.
There is more white in her hair now than there was on the day I met her under the trees of the Burgos farm in San Miguel, Bulacan, near the grave of the husband she calls Joe. She was going to be a nun before she met him, she says, but he wrote her long letters and she fell in love in spite of herself, and in falling in love signed on to a lifetime as a soldier in Joe Burgos’ long crusade for freedom.
She stands now, this time for her son and the sons and daughters of many other mothers. She is there at court hearings, quiet beside the families of the lost. She weeps with the weeping and laughs with the laughing, she holds out coffee cups and press releases and takes tricycles to the Department of Justice. She gets on her knees to unlock tripod legs and hoists boom mikes when there is nobody left who can, and has been known to invite in sheepish young journalists who skulk outside her door during interview breaks, pretending not to smoke.
“All my sons smoke,” she says, smiling. “I used to.”
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