April 27, 2010 in Featured
BAGUIO CITY — It was an afternoon of remembrance. It was an afternoon of affirming we will never forget. It was James Balao’s 49th birthday last April 19.
It was an afternoon of convergence. It was such uncanny coincidences that sends shivers to the bone. There we were as a circle of family and friends wishing James Balao Happy Birthday in his absence. And in his absence we have invited Ms Editha Burgos, mother of Jonas Burgos, a young man like James who was also abducted by military agents. Uncanny that both young men have initials J.B.
The circle of family and friends planted flags of different colors in the Healing Gardens of St. Scholastica Convent in Wagner Road. The garden that also serves as the Stations of the Cross of the convent. Uncanny convergence. In the waving flags with written birthday messages for James, we are reminded of the Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that little hill, we shout our written messages so the wind will carry them to James and maybe to Jonas too, that we remember them with love and longing for the day they will come home again.
It was also a convergence of colors. The dry and brown hills festooned with the loud, waving flags in colors of red, white, blue and green – one color for the elements of the earth that the Tibetians embraced. We copied the ceremony of the planting of flags from them. The other time we remembered James with paper cranes like the Japanese remember loved ones. The flowers in the garden were also profuse with summer blooms. But the vegetable garden was newly planted with greens. Again a repeat of the themes of life, new life, death and seeds, and resurrection.
I was struck by the message of Art Alladiw to Ms Burgos. He said he met Jonas as a student when both of them were student leaders and student journalists writing for their school papers. Art is also a friend of James, and now he is running for city councilor. The convergence of one who is on crutches “running” for office and two young men and their families “running” for justice and hoping that one day they will all walk home safe. Like James and Jonas, Art has received a death threat from those who wish to snuff the lives of those who continue to struggle for freedom, peace and justice.
Engr. Art (again, uncanny) Balao cries he misses his son and every day he wishes the door opens and in comes James. The pregnant niece of JMB hopes to attend one more Cordillera Day with James. Friends and adings Abi and Vernie wish that one day another picnic in the river for another birthday celebration will occur. In her absence, Luchie’s poem for James was read.
In this circle of wishes, people who have never known James stage an every Monday Protest in Germany for him and other freedom fighters so he will be surfaced and his abductors put to trial. In this circle, people in New Zealand, Britain and Canada send greetings to family and bagsful of cards and letters praying with them for James’ safe return. The Episcopal churches all over the world have sent solidarity messages and strong statements of condemnation for the continuing culture of impunity that steals young men from their families and advocacies.
It is a wonderful thought that even those who have not heard of James Balao before would remember him daily in their prayers and thoughts and be aroused enough to start campaigns in their churches, schools and circles for the longed for peace in the Philippines.
It is wonderful that the desaparecidos of the world are not forgotten. We especially remember on James’ birthday the other desaparecidos – Vic Labasbas, Karen Empeño, Shereyn Cadapan, Fr. Nilo Valerio, Fr. Bruno Ortega and a lot more.
Lulu and her group produced a video of James’ pictures to the nostalgic tune of the Beatles’ Imagine. Jude Baggao of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance recalled that James was abducted on September 17, 2008 on the same day that they were recognizing human rights advocates with Tanggol Karapatan awards. How uncanny!
In this newspaper, we have placed a countdown of the days James Balao is missing. We will continue to count and remember until he is surfaced and brought back to his family and friends. Nobody at the celebration was able to sing or even play the guitar, something James was very good at. Friends had to write their messages and read them in the celebration lest they break down in tears if they just stood up and spoke. Even in planting the colored flags, tears watered the ground in remembrance. Happy 49th Birthday, James.# nordis.net