Brothers in belief and deeds

LaCroix: 03 September 2018

Separated by a generation, Jonas Burgos was abducted at 37 years old, Sombath Somphone a few months before turning 56

Filipino human rights activists call on the Lao government to surface Sombath Somphone, who went missing in Vientiane, Laos, in 2012. (Photo by Joe Torres/

When we were invited to Europe to seek support for our search for my missing son, Jonas Burgos, my other son, who accompanied me, and I were greeted with welcome posters of Jonas with the caption “Jonas is mijn broer,” “Jonas ist mein Bruder,” “Jonas is my brother.”

The impact was such that now we have our own posters reading “Jonas is my brother.”

A few years back, I met Shui Meng Ng, a Singaporean whose husband, Sombath Somphone, is a victim of enforced disappearance. For three days, I learned about Sombath.

The question that now confronts me is “Are Jonas and Sombath brothers?” How could they be brothers? Jonas would be 48 years old, Sombath 65.

Separated by a generation, Jonas was abducted when he was 37 while Sombath was taken a few months before turning 56.

Jonas is a Catholic, Sombath a Buddhist. Jonas worked as a farmer, Sombath as a trainer. Jonas was naturally gregarious, outspoken and an extrovert. From what I was told, Sombath was quiet, reserved and an introvert.

A community development worker who has been recognized for his work, Sombath was a Magsaysay Awardee in 2005. Jonas, who worked with the grassroots, is little known for his work, except by the people he served.

But Jonas and Sombath had more similarities in their lives.

Both worked with farmers, both worked without pay, both loved the youth, both were self-motivated, both went the extra mile to help others, both loved their country, both were undeterred by challenges, and both were undaunted by government’s lack of support and antagonism.

Both believed that the measure of success was the happiness in the hearts of the masses.

How could Jonas be Sombath’s brother? “Whoever does the will of God is my brother,” says the evangelist Mark.

And what is the will of the Father? One of the two greatest commandments goes “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:35-40). Simply said, a brother is one who loves.

When Jonas was taken in a public mall, there were many witnesses. When Sombath was taken, a CCTV recording shows he was seen by policemen. In both abductions, no one intervened to prevent the crime. No one was a brother to Jonas and Sombath.

Living the “search” for more than 11 years now, I have seen, heard and experienced how victims of enforced disappearance become members of a “brotherhood.”

We shed tears for each other and our hearts break together when we learn about more abductions and human rights violations that continue to happen.

Yes, Jonas and Sombath are brothers. They cared, they loved.

“When you can look into the face of human beings and you have enough light to recognize them as your brothers and sisters. Up until then it is night, and darkness is still with us,” wrote Henri Nouwen.

“And for those who live in this night … Let us pray for the light. It is the peace the world cannot give,” he added.

Because they have loved, Jonas and Sombath lived the peace the world could not give.

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.

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