James Balao turns 51 years old today

James Balao turns 51 years old today.

May this birthday greeting find its way to the heart of our brother, James.

James Balao, our brother, eldest among the four of us, turns 51 years old today. This is the fourth year we are celebrating his birthday, not in the quiet of our home with family and all the home cooked food, but on the streets with friends and his colleagues holding his picture, placards, posters.

May this birthday message to our brother James find its way to where ever he is being hidden from us.

How do you think he will feel if he heard that we are out here, unendingly seeking for him? It would very much warm his heart.

If we could give him the message that we want him home, that we want him to be cared by us, that we are here to heal his wounds, that we will feed him his

favorite bukel (beans) and pata, and just mostly to hold him close, and to tell him that we love him. He knows all of these but it is different when he will really hear a message from us:

Dear Manong James,

We love you.

We remember you everyday and today, April 19, your 51st birthday we are reminding the government, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the President, the corrupt officials that until today you remain missing, that we are here on the streets again, with our statements, with our posters reminding them what the system did to you.

Some few weeks ago, a close friend saw your photo on the shelf, and asked us where you are. We answered he’s just somewhere. And this friend answered, “ada lang man dayta dita” ( ” he is just around.”) Joni made him repeat to make sure we heard him right and he repeated the same words. With mom and dad’s death, we felt very frustrated and angry that they were not able to see you. The words, “James is just there” adds to a certainty of hope for us.  But the same words also broke our hearts. “He is just around.”.. the thought that you must just be so near yet so unreachable, so far…

We need you here with us. But we know you needs us much much more. We love you so much James. We hope to find you.

It has been four frustrating years that you have been kept from us.  The culture of impunity continues to this day that we have not found you.  The Supreme Court last December even denied us the Writ of Amparo that we hoped we could use in search for you.  President Aquino has not changed things. We continue to hear of those like you who speak about social justice and indigenous peoples rights getting arrested, killed or disappeared.

Today on your birthday, we, your family and friends, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance are here today Manong James, demanding for your freedom and for justice.

The birthday greetings are also coming from other friends. If you only knew James… Your freedom is being fought for every Monday in Stuttgart, Germany by the Monday Demonstration Group, in Spain by the Amnesty International in Vallecas and the United States of America, the Desaparecidos here in the country and many other groups and by people we have come to know in our search for you and for justice.

We will not stop until you are here with us again.  We will continue to remind the people of who you are and what the State has done to you.  We will not stop until we find you.

Happy Birthday Manong.  Be strong. We  love you,

Joni, Winston and Nonette

We pray that the winds and the people with hearts send our words to James.

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