Opinion & Analysis
Coping with surveillance: Kindness, humor, and prayers always work9:13 PM, March 13, 2019
Philippines:Somehow, something comes up and there would be an opportunity to shake off the shadow.
A file photo of Edita T. Burgos during a demonstration in Manila. (Photo by Mark Saludes/ucanews.com)
Always stay alert. One unpleasant and scary consequence of being involved in human rights activities is being surveilled. However, being here, one simply needs to deal with it.
She was in this yellow skirt with bright red flowers. She stood out from the crowd of students who were in shorts and denim pants. This was the girl who stepped out of the van that was following my car as I drove through the campus of the state university.
As I entered the building to have my documents copied, she followed from a distance. While waiting for my documents to be finished, the girl approached the stall, and tried to offer plums for sale. She must have bought these fruits outside and was trying to start a conversation.
Instead of just simply shaking my head, I said: "Do you realize that the men who told you to talk to me are bad men? You might go to hell by following them. But don't worry I will pray for you."
Her surprise was such that her hands shook, the plums falling and rolling in different directions on the floor. Without picking the fruits, she fled in a hurry, headed back to the parked van. Confirmed. She was part of the team following me. I picked up the plums.
In the few weeks after my son's abduction, the family was aware that we were being monitored, so we were always alert.
The first incident was an encounter with this clean-shaven handsome young man in knee length shorts. He was seated on the flower box in front of our House of Prayer. There are no houses nor establishments on the street where our prayer house is located, so I wondered what he was doing there.
Then I noticed the maroon bantam car parked a few meters away. The car looked like the one following me every time I went to volunteer at the House of Prayer. He could be the driver, an enlisted man, ordered to follow me.
Instead of going in right away I turned to the man. "Young man, it is quite hot here and later it will be hotter. If you are going to wait for me till I leave, why don’t you come in where it is cool, and you can leave when I go?"
His jaw just dropped. He got up and walked back to his car slowly, without saying a word and left. Kindness has confirmed my doubt. That day and the following days I didn’t see anyone following me.
Kindness and a sense of humor never fail.
Months after the abduction, we would see strange faces usually two at a time, standing, doing nothing, across the street, in front of our house. I would sometimes take pity on them especially because it was summer, so I would go to the gate, call them over and offer a bottle of cold water, which they gladly took. There was never an untoward incident with them.
I was at a mall, trying to kill time before a meeting in a neighboring building. At the ladies’ clothes section, after going through a few racks, I noticed this man. The department store was crowded, so I had more courage to try something new. Instead of moving on, I went back to the previous rack where he was now at. I would look closely at every item he would touch, pretending to be interested in every item he looked at. This time, I was on the offensive, following him everywhere he went, pretending to examine closely every item he touched. Finally, after a few minutes, he left and probably kept his distance because I couldn’t see him anymore.
Kindness, humor, and prayers always work. Once I establish that indeed I was being monitored, I would start praying for protection. Somehow, something comes up and there would be an opportunity to shake off the shadow.
I was in a moving passenger jeep, contemplating the cars behind it. I noticed this car going slowly, not overtaking the jeep even if it stopped several times. I found this strange. I texted my son and gave him the car plate. My son responded that this car plate belonged to a red bantam car. But the car behind us was a big black van. All of a sudden, I was super alert.
The van continued to follow us then stopped at an intersection, which also happened to be the end of the jeep route. I noticed that the car plate at the back had a different number. Some burly looking men got out of the van while our jeep turned to the left to let the passengers off.
I had to cross the road and pass right in front of the van’s open door and the men standing beside it. I didn’t want to do this. Then seven young men from the same jeep I took, overtook me. They were engaged in lively conversation. In a split second of inspiration, I asked the boys to help me cross the street. I said I was terrified of the cars.
Then I picked up a conversation with them, as if I knew them. Two of them, held me by my arms on both sides and helped me cross the street. I held on to them until we reached a school nearby where I knew some of the nuns. When I looked back, the men from the van were staring at me.
It may have been a false alarm, but we never know. It is always best to be careful and alert. Yes, kindness sometimes, humor sometimes, but always, prayers work best when you are being monitored.
Edita T. 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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