(Mrs. Edith Burgos shared about the life of her husband, Bantayog Martyr and press freedom advocate Joe Burgos during the First Quarter Celebration of Life last February 28, 2014.)
“To seek and live the truth and share a vision.” This in a capsule was the life of Jose G. Burgos, Jr.
I was a teacher and he was a reporter, those times before, during and right after martial law, the salaries of a teacher and newspaper reporter put together would be enough to live a decent albeit frugal life. With four children then, it was difficult but not heavy to make both ends meet. This was because, Joe would somehow be able to provide for occasions to create memories: out of town camping trips, food excursions, picnics in the most unlikely places in the metropolis, the slopes of Antipolo to watch the city skyline’s colors change while savoring a balot.
The good life could be lived with the bare minimum requirements. This was why it was not difficult for him to give up a lucrative position of public affairs manager of one of the biggest government corporations when he put up the We forum.
Joe lived the ‘impossible dream’ in his short stint on earth (65 years). He was only 38 when we started publishing. At the height of Martial Law in 1977, Joe saw the need for an alternative opposition paper so that there would be a venue for the other side of the stories to be published (at that time all the newspapers were controlled by the dictatorship).
Thus was born the ‘mosquito press”, so named because we were so small, we didn’t even own a printing press when we started. With one table, one chair and one borrowed typewriter, We Forum was born.
Typical to a mosquito the newspapers were small but buzzed and irritated the powers that be. Persistent and constant the newspapers eventually grew into (we still hold the record of the biggest number of copies printed in one day — 300,000) a 5-editions per day newspaper. At this time we already had 4 publications – We Forum, Malaya, Masa and Midday Masa. English and Tagalog, broadsheet and tabloid. Joe was practical, he lived in the office. But he was always able to spend quality time (with his family).
This was Joe, nothing deterred him, not even the raid on our newspapers, the confiscation of our printing press, office, his being incarcerated in solitary confinement.
Where did he get his drive and courage? Little is known about Joe’s spiritual life. He appeared to be gruff and loud and carefree if one knew him cursorily. But I who lived with him in the same house, the same room and shared all his moments, I assure you his relationship with God was so solid that he spent hours per day just in silence with God. Early morning, late at night, at 6 a.m., 12 noon, 6 p.m., he would take time out to seek his friend and converse with his friend wherever he was.
Joe got his courage from knowing that he was doing God’s will for him. He knew that he could go anytime: be killed or ambushed only if this was God’s will. He dared the ‘kings’ and ‘pharisees’ – stood before them to point out the unjust structures that oppressed the small, the poor, the marginalized. To my mind, that made Joe a prophet.
When I asked him once if he felt that the newspaper had any effect on the decisions of those who read it, his answer was “It is my duty to report the truth. What they do or decide is their lookout.”
As he was with his children, believing in the potential of each one, so also was he in managing the staff of the newspapers. He somehow brought out the best in each one. For a measly ‘barya’ as they called it, the staff refused to leave Malaya even after we were closed down. They willingly worked, for free if necessary, just so the newspapers would come out. Through all these he remained humble.
When he was very sick I would ask him – if he saw meaning in all the pain. I was half expecting to hear him say that he offered for those who forgot what happened during the dictatorship. Instead he smiled and said, “If we pray we do not need to look for meanings. His last words were “Praise to you God.”
He lived the truth, whether it was as a father, a husband, a newspaperman or just a simple farmer. This vision of sharing the truth he left with his children and those who worked with us. His memory lives on through them. He offered his life, even to the grave, a martyr for the country and for God.