This is Part 4 of an open letter to Jose G. Burgos Jr., former publisher-editor of WE Forum and Malaya, the pioneer mosquito press (opposition newspaper) during martial law. Joe passed away in November 2003 at the age of 63. He was honored with the title “Press Freedom Hero of the World” by the International Press Institute along with 49 others on the 50th anniversary of the founding of IPI.
I remember President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. lied.
When you and the others were arrested in the WE Forum raid, and the reactions both local and international were “violent,” President Marcos said we would get back our printing equipment, the office, etc. in a short while.
[Marcos’] statement was printed in practically all the local newspapers and reported by foreign wires in international newspapers. In spite of the controlled press at that time, the raid, your arrest, and the closure of WE Forum hogged the headlines. The international press strongly condemned the raid, which they called “the death of press freedom.” Heads of states sent appeals for you and the others to be released.
It was only after two years, after we won the subversion case in the Supreme Court, was the padlock of the office opened. The printing press, the seven delivery vehicles, the pickup truck, all the furniture in the office, our files, the books, etc. were never voluntarily returned to us. When we saw the vehicles parked in the camps, they were stripped of everything, leaving just useless skeletons. It didn’t matter that he was speaking to many media people or the world who read the stories, Marcos lied.
From where you are now, you can probably see that the invention of untruths seems to have been a legacy and is now “institutional.”
You were now in their custody and yet I did not feel alone.
At almost one in the morning, your Papa drove me home after our last look at the padlocked doors. I thought I was strong and in control but as we reached the Quezon Memorial Circle, a few blocks away from our house, I asked Papa to stop the car. At the sidewalk, I threw up, retching violently because my last meal of the day was breakfast. I had nothing to throw out. Getting back in the car, I could control the tears not to fall but could not stop the trembling of my hands.
I cannot remember now how I was able to walk to enter the house. I do remember instantly recovering from nausea when our help told me that there was a simultaneous raid conducted in the family house in Project 6. I guess they presumed that Project 6 was our residence. Later I learned the raiders also ransacked the cabinets and seized money and personal belongings of your sister.
The kids were in a safe place.
While I was not harmed physically by the raiders and I was able to convince myself that they failed to put a dent in my armor, my belief that your mission “to share the truth” was a noble one, there is no describing the internal uproar.
Only victims of an abuse caused by superiorly armed persons in authority can say what it is like to be at the receiving end of an injustice.
I saw what was happening and I remember clearly that the raiders indiscriminately took all that they thought they could use, punchers and staplers, the newspaper files seemed to be incidental.
Rebelling at their brazenness yet not being able to protest went against my grain. They were more interested in what they found in the drawers. All were “subversive.” Does a court order authorizing state agents to raid and arrest supposed subversives also allow them to steal personal belongings?
What to do next, where to look for you, how to move around with no resources, who to trust, while blocking thoughts of torture you could be undergoing and at the same time cushioning the effect on the children against the demonization and the vilification, meanwhile processing the means to keep the family fed without you, the main provider, were just a few of the things that occupied my mind. All these were complicated by the fact that among the arrested were our three younger brothers whose wives and girlfriend looked to me for guidance.
But blessings came in answer to my thoughts even before I could pray and ask for help. Lourdes “Chuchay” Molina-Fernandez, the first Filipino female editor-in-chief of a national broadsheet, came to the rescue, offering all sorts of help, but the most precious were her assurances, prayers and hugs. This emboldened me, knowing I could follow your parting words, “Continue publishing.”
My role in the publication was sort of “marginal,” not small yet not central because smooth administrative operation was necessary for any business, sort of like marginal notes on an important document.
Some tasks were raising funds for the day to day operation and for salaries and cash advances, janitorial and delivery chores, providing coffee and possibly food for late night workers, listening to parents who came, worried about their children working as correspondents, planning Christmas parties for the staff and for newspaper dealers, even driving for the publisher-editor and serving as his buddy and a myriad of housekeeping tasks.
Of course, there were times when I had to fill in as proofreader, secretary, typesetter, paste-up artist, librarian and receptionist-cum-guard. Everyone multi-tasked actually. All the editorial and important undertakings were taken care of by you, Chuchay, Papa and your team of trusted colleagues. The very critical tasks, such as decisions, the coverage, writing, the missions, the investigations, assignments, I stirred away from. A home economics teacher would know how to keep the house in order, but what would she know about writing and publishing?
I remember, you would always remind me, the less I knew, the better for my protection.
The main thing for me was that you have the gift of love for truth and country and early on I recognized this. You were given the vocation to seek the truth and share it, a charism gifted to many others, too. The least I could do in response to having you as a God-given partner in life, was to support you. Funny how I became the general manager of WE Forum and Malaya but what I actually managed was not “general” but teeny-weeny bits of support system. And this somehow rubbed off on the children who never demanded attention but blended into the press room and the printing plant helping or just horsing around the people and the equipment.
Reacting to international pressure and insisting that the press was free in the Philippines, Marcos released you and the others after a few days of solitary confinement in a tightly secured camp in Metro Manila.
I remember, the first time we saw you and the others was at the arraignment. We were informed by Mrs. Rodrigo and Mrs. Malay that the arraignment would take place at a Quezon City trial court. In a family council, minus you, we, the kids and myself planned that we had to make use of the opportunity to be seen by you and to be heard by you.
At the arraignment, teeming with security personnel, lawyers, media, and relatives, the courtroom that could accommodate only about 30 people, was bursting with about more than 50 people. More outside demanded to be allowed in.
Not wanting our kids to be squeezed, I positioned them at the back of the courtroom where there were unused tables lined against the wall. Standing on the tables, the kids were visible even to those in the front row near the judge’s bench. The moment they escorted you in, the kids started whistling our “signature” call, something you developed to help us gather the children while in malls when danger seemed to be present. Instantly, you knew we were there, you looked around and with your widest smile, waved at the kids who were waving back. The kids prepared short messages written at the back of used folders for you. “We Love you!” “Mabuhay ka Dads!,” “Go lang Dads!” “God will help us!”
But the youngest boy was not content. He went down the tables, slowly squeezed himself between people, intending to get closer to you. He was so insistent, I could only follow him, while the three other kids held on to each other and to me. JL, would gently touch the person blocking our way and say “I am the son of Joe Burgos. May we pass?” (“Anak po ako ni Joe Burgos, pwede po dumaan?”) Until there were only two rows of security people in white short sleeved barong tagalog blocking our way. When JL tugged at the sleeve of the person before him, the soldier turned roughly, glared at JL and in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, scolded JL. “What are you doing here child? Go out!” (Anong ginagawa mo dito bata ka? Labas!) With a trembling but loud voice, half afraid, half courageous, JL answered “Bakit? Tuta ka ba ni Marcos?” (Why [won’t you let us pass]? Are you Marcos’ lapdog?) At this, loud voices were heard from the crowd, “Let the family pass.” “They are Burgos’ kids.” “Don’t bully the child.” “What’s with you big guy?”
JL got his wish. He was able to hug you and sit on your lap. A photo has immortalized a child’s wish for assurance that his father was alright.
We were able to visit you once in Fort Bonifacio. But before we saw you, we received letters from you and the kids wrote you in return. How the letters “traveled” and what their contents said is for another memory I call the love-respect bond between father and children.
How lucky our children are, you must agree, they have your genes and the blessing of not allowing deprivation and intimidation paralyze joy and love. They are blessed to have learned that no matter what, they must tell the truth and not lie, unlike other children who have never learned that the truth will set them free.
Edita Burgos was general manager of the publications WE Forum and Malaya.