MANILA, Philippines – The case of missing activist Jonas Burgos could be used to test the effectiveness of the newly-minted Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act, a partylist lawmaker said Monday.
“It is a continuing crime because they refuse to acknowledge his fate or whereabouts,” said Bayan Muna partylist Representative Neri Colmenares, who himself languished in a Cagayan Valley prison when he was a young political activist.
During his detention decades ago, Colmenares was in poor medical condition with hardly any legal assistance. Somehow, then-Malaya publisher Joe Burgos Jr., father of Jonas, heard of him, and dispatched the chief of reporters, Joel Paredes, to interview him and track his case.
Colmenares, one of the law’s principal authors, said Mrs. Burgos’ lawyers should be able to use the new documents that her camp obtained and gave under seal to the Supreme Court in an urgent motion on Monday (April 1), showing proof of a military operation against her son.
“The Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act has four elements. One of them is the refusal to acknowledge the fate or whereabouts of the victims. Thus, even if the crime was committed five years ago or before the measure became a law, the perpetrators continue to commit the crime because of their refusal to acknowledge it,” Colmenares said.
The government should act in helping prosecute all those involved in the abduction, including those who covered it up, said the lawmaker.
“Closure can only be achieved if the fate or whereabouts of Jonas will be known,” Colmenares, a lawyer, said.
Burgos, a farmer-activist, was abducted allegedly by state agents on April 28, 2007 at the Ever Gotesco Mall in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.
On March 18, the Court of Appeals ruled that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, specifically the Philippine Army, was accountable for Burgos’s disappearance, and the Philippine National Police was blamed for a botched investigation. The CA ruling was revealed March 27.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said the ruling was “highly significant because it again judicially validates what human rights defenders and several national and international rights groups have been saying all along: that enforced disappearances–and extrajudicial killings and torture–are systematically perpetrated and perpetuated by the military and State forces.”
“This legal victory is a testament to the tenacious determination of Jonas’ mother Mrs. Edith Burgos, her family, their counsel, and human rights defenders who have resolutely pursued the case practically in all fora available here and abroad,” NUPL’s Edre Olalia said.