Edita Burgos still holds out hope

Erika Sauler | Inqurer.net
October 31, 2014

Edita Burgos

MANILA, Philippines–Edita Burgos still lives with the hope that her missing son, farmer-political activist Jonas Burgos, will one day knock on her door and announce that he’s home.

But after seven and a half years of searching, which included examining yet-to-be identified tortured bodies, the 71-year-old mother is prepared to accept the worst.

“We are idealistic in the sense that we still hope to find him, and realistic to accept the possibility that he could already be gone,” Edita said in an interview, after taking the stand at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in the arbitrary detention case against Army Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr.

Baliaga was declared responsible for the enforced disappearance of Jonas in the investigation report of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and in the decision of the Court of Appeals in the habeas corpus and amparo petitions filed by Edita.

“I’m not angry with him,” Edita said. “I’ve already forgiven. But we are here to find the truth. Just like a mother gets angry when a child breaks something. The anger will melt away but the child still has to clean up the mess.”

The prosecution on Thursday presented Edita as the first witness to identify Baliaga, to talk about the abduction and subsequent search for Jonas and to prove damages.

The cost of searching for Jonas has run up to millions, using up the family’s savings, Edita’s retirement benefits, as well as the death and retirement benefits of her late husband, press freedom advocate Jose Burgos Jr.

Broken heart

“The impact of the loss of my son is unquantifiable. You cannot put a price to the broken heart, the broken family, the loss of a son,” Edita said.

Baliaga, sitting on the second row in court, mostly kept his arms crossed and displayed a slight frown while Edita testified.

After the trial, Baliaga said he understood the Burgoses’ grief, but “it seems they also want my mother to feel that way by taking me away from her.”

Baliaga said he was teaching at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City when he was tagged in the abduction and was subsequently assigned to the Army headquarters in Taguig City. He said he liked his PMA post because he was near his family in the Mountain Province.

“Whenever they (Burgoses) look at me, I can see that they’re very angry with me. I’m just hoping that later on, the truth will come out,” Baliaga said.

Asked about this, Edita said, “I was not the one who concluded that he was responsible for the abduction. It was the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. I’m even doing him a favor. I’m giving him the opportunity that they did not give to Jonas, to have his day in court.”

“They took my son’s right to defend himself,” Edita added.

Edita told the court that the family called and sent text messages to Jonas when he did not come home on April 28, 2007.

‘Let’s talk tomorrow’

Jonas only answered the following day and he was incoherent. Edita kept asking where he was and why he did not come home. He only said, “I was taking a bath” and “Sorry, let’s talk tomorrow,” then the line went dead.

After a press conference to announce that Jonas was missing, Edita received a call informing her that her son must have been the man who was kidnapped from the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City.

The Burgoses rushed to the mall and a waitress said she saw Jonas being taken away by a group of about four men and a woman. The mall security guard took down the license plate of the group’s vehicle and it was traced to a vehicle impounded in the camp of the 56th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan province, where Baliaga was then a first lieutenant.

Despite the granting of the habeas corpus and amparo petitions, Jonas has not been located. Edita has sought help from various police headquarters, several congressmen and senators, including now President Aquino.

She sought the assistance from the CHR, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. She also brought her case to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the US Congress and the European Parliament.

“If Jonas was found and he learned that I did not look for him, that would break his heart. I don’t want that to happen. I want him to know that we really looked for him up to the end,” Edita said in the interview.

In 2013, somebody gave Edita a photo showing Jonas after his abduction and confidential military documents on his apprehension and psychosocial processing that the Supreme Court ordered not to be publicly disclosed.

“When I imagine what they must be doing to my son, it’s torture to think that he’s still alive. We still have hope. But if he’s already gone, he’s not suffering anymore, he’s in the hands of God,” Edita said.

Did ISAFP chief swap case vs. ‘traitor’ AFP officer for the truth behind Jonas Burgos abduction?

pictureforblogInteraksyon.com

MANILA, Philippines – For the third time, the Commission on Appointments subcommittee handling nominations in the military put on the agenda for Wednesday, September 25, the case of Gen. Eduardo M. Ano, chief of the Intelligence Service-Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).

The general’s confirmation had been held up after Sen. Serge Osmena III reserved his right to throw questions at the man tagged by Edita T. Burgos, the main private objector, as one of those involved in the abduction of her still-missing son, activist-farmer Jonas Burgos, on April 28, 2007.

At Wednesday’s hearing of the subcommittee on national defense, Mrs. Burgos gave senators a letter that detailed, for the first time, the long journey she had taken to uncover the truth about why the military would want to seize Jonas Burgos.

Over her objections, the subcommittee endorsed Ano’s confirmation to the CA plenary, citing the Department of Justice ruling on September 3 absolving him of complicity in the abduction and enforced disappearance of Jonas, son of press freedom icon Jose Burgos Jr.

Below is a transcript Ms. Burgos’ letter:

September 23, 2012

Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist 

THE COMMISSION ON APPOINTMENTS

Sirs/Madam:

Greetings!

With prayers that justice would be served, we have submitted an opposition to the promotion of Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año in a letter and affidavit last November 21, 2012, to this honorable Commission on Appointments.

My son, Jonas Joseph T. Burgos was abducted on April 28, 2007 at the Bahay Kainan Restaurant in the Ever Gotesco Mall while he was alone and having his lunch. The Commission will certainly appreciate that as Jonas’ mother, I must take all means and venue possible to find my son. The painful search has taken more than 6 years and yet my son continues to be missing.

Gen. Año has denied my allegations at the CA’s hearing last September 4, 2013.

We reiterate our opposition to the confirmation of the promotion of Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año.  We are against the promotion of Brig. Gen. Año because he is one of the suspects in the enforced disappearance of my son, Jonas Joseph T. Burgos, on April 28, 2007 at Ever Gotesco Mall, Quezon City.

Always prayerfully discerning our actions, guided with the principle of sincerity in our hearts and founded on the conviction that we must be fair to all, in rebuttal, I would like to narrate the circumstances that led me to conclude that Gen. Año is a human rights violator and does not deserve to be confirmed by this Commission:

Sometime in May 2007 I went to see Gen. Delfin Bangit then chief of ISAFP to ask about Jonas and Gen. Bangit denied that ISAFP had anything to do with the enforced disappearance of Jonas but he did not discount the possibility that other intelligence units of the military may be involved;

June 2007 I first heard from a police source of the name Lt. Dick Abletes arrested for spying for the NPA as somebody who may lead me to find out who forcibly took my son;

Sometime in June 2007, I met with Gen. Bangit as ISAFP chief at the Camp Crame office of Police Director then head of Task Force Usig Geary Barias where Gen. Bangit told me “off the record” that the enforced disappearance of Jonas is connected with the arrest of Lt. Dick Abletes;

In the December 2007/February 2008 issue of Newsbreak, Glenda Gloria in her article “Trapped in a Web of Lives: Is the disappearance of Jonas Burgos related to the arrest of an Army lieutenant accused of spying for communist rebels?” wrote that it was the “Army’s Intelligence Security Group (ISG) that was privy to the details of Abletes’ arrest … ISG is headed by Col. Ed Año, a 1983 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy who incidentally, is a classmate of Senior Supt. Ashner Dolina, police chief of Bulacan whose men ‘arrested’ Lipio (rebel returnee who the police presented as their witness that Jonas was abducted by the NPA);

  • When Gen. Año testified at the Court of Appeals on May 6, 2008, he admitted that ISG conducted surveillance operation on Lt. Abletes on March 23, 2007 and caught him on video meeting with 2 NPAs to whom he gave their Working Order of Battle;
  • Lt. Abletes was arrested by joint elements of the 56th IB, MICO 7th ID and 15th ISU/ISG on March 26, 2007 and turned over to the ISG together with the evidence found on Lt. Abletes such as 2 cellphones, email messages, etc.;
  • Lt. Abletes testified at the Court of Appeals on February 21, 2012 that he was interrogated by ISG and detained for 4 years, 6 months and 27 days, one year in solitary confinement (“bartolina“) until he was released in September 2011 after trial for violation of the Articles of War – communicating with and aiding the enemy – and acquitted by the court martial;
  • Judge Advocate General Marianne Aliedo testified at the Court of Appeals on April 12, 2012 that based on the records it was the ISG who filed the complaint against Lt. Abletes for violation of the Articles of War – communicating with and aiding the enemy; that the evidence of ISG were the “After Operation Report, 26 March 2007 by Eduardo L. Año, colonel, Philippine Army, Group Commander, ISG”, 2 cellphones with incriminating messages (cellphones were subjected to forensic examination, contents of his text messages reduced in writing), his emails showing communication with the members of the CPP/NPA; that ISG did not present any of their evidence, Col. Año did not testify on his “After Operation Report”.

Gen. Delfin Bangit, former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and former ISAFP Chief, predecessor of Gen. Año, personally told me that the arrest of Lt. Dick Abletes is connected to the enforced disappearance of Jonas on April 28, 2007. Lt. Abletes was arrested by ISG (15th ISU) jointly with the 56th IB on March 26, 2007 or a month earlier. ISG interrogated Lt. Abletes and detained him in “bartolina” and charged for violation of the Articles of War – communicating with and aiding the enemy. ISG has evidence against Lt. Abletes consisting of “After Operation Report” of Gen. Año, incriminating text messages and emails, testimony of Melissa Reyes, ISG videotaped meeting between Melissa Reyes and another male companion and Lt. Abletes but none of which was presented in the court martial trial resulting in the acquittal of Lt. Abletes.

After detaining Lt. Abletes for more than 4 years and despite strong evidence that he was a traitor, the ISG let him off by not presenting evidence against him and allowed him to be acquitted by the court martial. Why? There must be something in the evidence against Lt. Abletes or within the knowledge of Lt. Abletes which has a connection with the enforced disappearance of Jonas.

At the very least as Group Commander of ISG and currently Chief of the ISAFP Gen. Año has to account for the evidence against Lt. Abletes, produce it and turn it over to us. He has to account for his criminal negligence in intentionally withholding evidence against a traitor and allowing him to be acquitted. He has to account for the disclosure of his predecessor, Gen. Bangit that the arrest of Lt. Abletes is connected with the enforced disappearance of Jonas.

Having failed to meet his accountabilities he is not fit to be confirmed by this Commission.

For 6 long years I have been painfully searching for my son Jonas. I am certain that the military, particularly the Philippine Army the elements of the 7th Infantry Division including the 56th Infantry Battalion, the intelligence units of the 7th ID, and the ISG are involved in his disappearance. The officers of the Armed Forces in 2007 have all denied their responsibilities or accountabilities about Jonas. I only got lies from them (except Gen Bangit for his information about Lt. Abletes). PMA 1974 classmates Gen. Hermogenes Esperon CS and Gen. Romeo Tolentino, Philippine Army Commander, have conspired to cover up the crime against Jonas. But what is revolting to one who seeks the truth, is that their successors have continued with the cover up. Gen. Año is a co-conspirator in the cover up.

On the feast of St. Matthew, one of the evangelists, who proclaimed the truth, my prayer is that the Commission of Appointments will not allow itself to be manipulated to be part of the cover-up by confirming Gen. Año.

Respectfully yours,

EDITA T. BURGOS, OCDS

CA affirms ruling holding AFP, PNP accountable for Burgos disappearance

Mark Merueñas | GMA News

(Updated 5:59 p.m.) The Court of Appeals has stood firm on its earlier ruling that the military and the police should be held accountable for the enforced disappearance of political activist Jonas Burgos in 2007.

In a resolution penned by Associate Justice Rosalinda Asuncion-Vicente, the CA denied a motion for partial reconsideration filed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) seeking to reverse the court’s March 18 ruling holding the two agencies accountable for Burgos’ disappearance.

“Suffice it… to state that this court’s finding and conclusion that [Burgos] was abducted by a group of persons, one of whom was positively identified as Maj. Harry Baliaga, Jr. of the Philippine Army, coupled with the AFP’s lack of serious effort to conduct further and deeper investigation simply because [Burgos] is allegedly not in its custody, speak loudly of the leadership’s accountability,” the CA said.

As for the PNP’s accountability, the appeallate court said: “In the case of the PNP, suffice it to state that its failure to rap and elicit leads and information from Jeffrey Cabintoy, who personally witnessed [the abduction] and who was able to positively identify his abductor, is eloquent proof of its failure to exercise extraordinary diligence in the conduct of its investigation.”

Concurring in the latest CA decision were Associate Justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Franchito Diamante.

In a phone interview with GMA News Online, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson  Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said “they would respect the court’s decision.”
He noted, however, that they filed the petition because it is not their policy to abduct activists.
“A motion for reconsideration was made because it is not the policy of the AFP to abduct and violate human rights,” added Tutaan, who was once the AFP’s Human Rights Office chief.
Justice to Burgos

In its original March 18 ruling, the CA also ordered the military to continue exerting efforts to bring justice to Burgos.

Aside from holding the military accountable, the CA also pointed to Maj. Harry A. Baliaga Jr. as being “responsible” for Burgos’ disappearance. Baliaga, an Army First Lieutenant at the time of the incident, belongs to the 56th Infantry Battalion based in Bulacan province.

The CA ruling, which stemmed the consolidated petitions for habeas corpus filed by Burgos’ mother Edita, also recognized his abduction as a case of enforced disappearance covered by the Rule of the Writ of Amparo, contrary to the military’s claim that Burgos was a victim of “internal communist purging.”

A writ of amparo is an expeditious and effective relief given to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.

Burgos, a political activist and son of the late press freedom fighter Jose Burgos, was abducted in a restaurant at the Ever Gotesco Mall along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on April 28, 2007.

He was believed to be seized by the military because the license plate number of the vehicle used in his abduction was traced to another vehicle impounded in 2006 at the 56th Infantry Battalion camp in Bulacan. — with Marc Jayson Cayabyab/KBK/RSJ, GMA News