'Burgos' Review: Mother’s day in August

Edita Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos and newspaper publisher Joe Burgos’ widow, believes in destiny. The soft-spoken would-be nun would have preferred the bucolic life in the Bulacan family farm where she would mull her peaceful life and enjoy her children’s company.

But  a call that fateful day would change her life forever. The call told her Jonas was abducted in the mall and sped off in a vehicle that was later found abandoned somewhere  in the province.

“If not for Jonas, I won’t be involved in the plight of the desaparecidos (missing persons),” she told Yahoo! Philippines OMG! minutes before “Burgos,” Joel Lamangan’s film on her tireless search for her activist-son was screened.

And if not for director Joel Lamangan, an activist in his own right, her search for Jonas  won’t debut on the big screen on August 3, 9PM at the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines), where it is slated to close the 2013 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

Because it chronicles a mother’s undying love for her missing son, “Burgos” might as well be a Mother’s Day film except that its playdate is not in May.

While you don’t usually expect someone as mild-mannered as Edita (she wanted to be a nun until she met Joe) to be livid with anger, Lorna Tolentino as the Burgos matriarch showed what the emotion was all about – not through histrionics but through a quiet dignity becoming of a press freedom icon’s widow.

Instead of lashing out at a rich general’s wife who confronted her on the road, Edita walked past her, gave her one cold look, opened the door of the cab, and left the rich woman alone in the street.

Actions do speak louder than words.

The guilty one

That gesture says it loud and clear. The film shows that the military is guilty as sin.

The military knows that Edita knows. But she won’t back off, even if it means finding out that the driver of the cab she is riding in sports the oh-so-familiar boots soldiers wear.

“Hindi naman sila (people who shadow her) talaga masama. Sumusunod lang sila sa utos. So kinakausap ko sila. Minsan, tinanong ko 'yung isa kung sinusundan nya ako. Nung hindi siya sumagot, sinabi ko sa kanya, ‘Dito ka na lang sa loob kasi mainit diyan.Medyo matatagalan ako dito.'”

The guilt-stricken guy walked away and disappeared.

For some reason, this incident was excluded in the film. This example of human kindness could have balanced the torture scenes that can make even the stone-hearted cringe. It could have watered down scenes showing burned faces, a mental patient’s blank stare, etc.

Still, the film speaks to the heart – a mother’s, a child pining for her missing dad, siblings moving heaven and earth to look for their brother.

Pain and hope

“Burgos” has a lot of pain. But it also speaks about hope that springs eternal in a mother’s heart. 

Lorna, with her calm but no-nonsense look, represents mothers who won’t stop until they find their children. Her furrowed brow speaks of wisdom from years of helping her husband fight for press freedom while raising his just-as-vigilant brood.

While “Burgos” is about love, sacrifice and freedom, it is no melodrama. It has the quiet dignity of its lead real-life character. And it has a theme that is as universal as ever.

It will bring “Cinemalaya” to an eventful close.

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