Families of desaparecidos trooped to QC Hall of Justice, called on Maj. Harry Baliaga to spill the beans

November 12, 2013

Families of Desaparecidos for Justice today trooped to Quezon City Hall of Justice for the arraignment of the case against Maj. Harry Baliaga in relation to the abduction and disappearance of agriculturist Jonas Burgos.

Maj. Baliaga is the lone soldier charged with arbitrary detention while other military officials, specifically Gen. Eduardo Año, were dropped from the list of respondents and was confirmed by the Commission on Appointments as intelligence chief.

“We again call on Maj. Harry Baliaga to bare all that he knows about Jonas’s abduction and disappearance,” said Lorena Santos, secretary general of Desaparecidos. “Spill the beans, soldier! Tell the court who else are involved in this crime,” Santos demanded. “We remind Maj. Baliaga that he faces a graver offense and punishment under the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act 2012,” Santos said.

Desaparecidos also reiterated its call to charge, arrest and punish Gen. Ano and the others who were originally charged, saying “high military officers used Baliaga to escape prosecution.”

“While we grieve for the lives lost brought by typhoon Yolanda, we cannot let this day pass without protesting how the government condones acts of people like Ano and Baliaga,” Lorena P. Santos, Desaparecidos secretary general said.

Meanwhile, Desaparecidos challenged the Armed Forces of the Philippines to comply with the recent decision of the Supreme Court on the Writ of Amparo petition for the disappearance of another activist James Balao. The Supreme Court ordered the heads of the AFP and PNP to “directly and personally” locate Balao. James, an indigenous people’s right advocate, disappeared in September 2008.

“The military will again make up countless excuses to cover up their sins and escape prosecution,” Santos said. “Expectedly, this case will again turn out to be just like the case of two missing University of the Philippine students where the military kept on postponing court hearings even as Gen. Jovito Palparan remains free.,” Santos said.

“The phenomenon of enforced disappearance is a man-made disaster that keeps on happening under this government, and the people guilty of such crime ought to be punished,” Santos ended. ###

Lorena “Aya” Santos, secretary general


Editorial | Philippine Daily Inquirer

It’s a glimmer of hope—bittersweet vindication after years of dead ends and uncertainty.”

Edita Burgos said that in March 2011, after the Commission on Human Rights issued a report that found some military officers liable for the disappearance of her son Jonas Burgos, an agriculturist and peasant organizer who was abducted by a group of men and one woman from a restaurant at Ever Gotesco mall in Quezon City in April 2007. The CHR report named names; it identified Lt. Harry Baliaga as among those who had a hand in the abduction.

By that time it had been four years of relentless pursuit on the mother’s part to track her son. She didn’t come in blind. A mall security guard was able to note the plate number of the vehicle used in Jonas’ kidnapping, and the number was traced to a vehicle that had been impounded at the headquarters of the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion in Norzagaray, Bulacan, since June 2006. That was an important clue that the military had a link to Jonas’ disappearance—but military personnel summoned by police investigators denied the accusation and claimed that the license plate might have been stolen from the camp.

Over the next years, the Burgos family would be met with repeated instances of evasion and stonewalling by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. When Edita wrote then AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon requesting a copy of an internal report detailing the involvement of the 56th IB in the case, the military turned down the request because, it said, the report was classified matter. When the report was finally released, it dealt, not with Jonas’ kidnapping, but with the loss of the license plate.

It was one preposterous dilatory move after another. When the Supreme Court, in July 2011, stepped into the case by ordering the AFP to produce Jonas based on the CHR report and new evidence it uncovered, the military simply said it could not comply with the ruling because Jonas was not in its custody. The high court also directed the Court of Appeals to relitigate the case, and here, in March 2013, nearly six years after her son’s disappearance, Edita Burgos made a bit of headway. The CA ruled that Jonas’ case was one of “enforced disappearance,” and that the military was responsible for it.

Baliaga wasn’t the only one mentioned; the CA decision said the military brass at the time—Generals Esperon, Romeo Tolentino, Juanito Gomez, Delfin Bangit, et al.—were “imputed with knowledge” about the disappearance due to command responsibility, and should have complied with the directive to “disclose all relevant facts concerning the case, as well as to investigate it with extraordinary diligence.” But, it added, the AFP’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation was “persuasive proof of the alleged cover-up of the military’s involvement in the enforced disappearance.”

Can anything be more damning? The accusation of official cover-up was an explosive one, but inexplicably, the military got not even a token reprimand. One of those implicated, Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año, was even promoted to head of the AFP’s intelligence service. Edita Burgos’ joy at the “glimmer of hope” she saw in March 2011 was short-lived. The AFP remained untouchable, even with the fresh evidence she presented showing Jonas’ name in a military “order of battle” and a mug shot of him that appeared to have been taken while he was in custody. In the last six years, she has taken her crusade to Malacañang, the CHR, the courts, even the United Nations, yet the perpetrators have remained scot-free.

But the tide may be turning. A Quezon City court has issued a warrant for the arrest of Baliaga, who will face trial for arbitrary detention. (He posted bail yesterday.) Six other respondents have been dropped from the charge sheet by the Department of Justice, which means Baliaga will be by his lonesome in court at this time. The idea, of course, that in snatching Jonas Burgos—a charge bolstered by several eyewitness testimonies—he acted alone, or that he did so without the authorization of higher military officers, is one more preposterous scenario that the Burgos family, as well as the nation, is being presented.

Still, it’s a breakthrough, no matter how small—and hopefully the foot in the door that would finally bring light to this sordid conspiracy of silence and cover-up. Baliaga isn’t the only one in the dock here; the AFP is, too.

Bail for Baliaga is a way to escape prosecution – Desaparecidos

FILE: Mrs. Edita Burgos submitted newly-discovered evidence to the Supreme Court and expressed caution about her security and those of witnesses. (Allan Gomez/Interaksyon.com)

FILE: Mrs. Edita Burgos submitted newly-discovered evidence to the Supreme Court and expressed caution about her security and those of witnesses. (Allan Gomez/Interaksyon.com)

Press Release
October 22, 2013

“The Burgos case is not on the track to justice. First, the brains of the abduction of Jonas Burgos was exonerated and Gen. Eduardo Año was even confirmed as Chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Now, while Maj. Harry Baliaga has a standing warrant of arrest against him, he can still bail himself out of prison for only P40,000,” said Lorena P. Santos, secretary general of Families of Desaparecidos for Justice.

Jonas Burgos was disappeared by soldiers for suspicion of being a New People’s Army member. He was abducted April 28, 2007 and remains missing. His mother, Edita, filed a case of arbitrary detention, murder and obstruction of justice against Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año, Lt. Col. Melquiades Feliciano, Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano and Dir. Gen. Avelino Razon Jr. But, all were dropped from the respondent’s list except for Maj. Harry Baliaga.

“The government does not realize how deeply enraged we are by the dropping of charges against the AFP generals led by Gen. Año and zeroing only on a small fry like Maj. Baliaga. But even the charges against Maj. Baliaga is useless because the Court provided him a P40,000 escape route. We expected Branch 216 of Quezon City to understand the gravity of this case,” Santos said. “By giving Maj. Baliaga a way to escape prosecution, another case of Palparan or Reyes is most likely on the way.” Santos continued.

Ret. Gen. Jovito Palparan is wanted for the kidnapping and illegal detention of the two missing students of the University of the Philippines; while ex -Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes is wanted for the killing of environmentalist Gerry Ortega. Both have standing arrest warrants since last year yet, both are still walking free and continue to escape arrest.

“The court should not let the Burgos case be watered down to a mere case of a common crime. This is a state perpetrated crime of probable murder aside from arbitrary arrest. Thus, perpetrators should be punished with the full force of the law,” Santos said.

“May we remind BS Noynoy Aquino that the world is watching at how the Burgos case and other cases of enforced disappearances in the Philippines will go. If the BS Aquino government will continue to let perpetrators of enforced disappearances go free, then he does not deserve to be in the Presidential office,” Santos concluded. ###

Reference: Lorena “Aya” Santos, Secretary General, Desaparecidos 09088121982