Burgos family urges government, AFP to surface Jonas after CHR found Army culpable

MANILA – While the family of missing activist Jonas Burgos welcomes the latest report of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) implicating the military in the abduction, Jonas’s mother Edita said the real measure of success is the recovery of her son. Jonas’s brother JL, meanwhile, said the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

“Our theory has been right all along. The evidence gathered by the CHR confirms our family’s theory that the Philippine Army is involved in the abduction of my son and elements of the police and military are participating in a cover up to hide the identity of the abductors and those involved,” Mrs. Burgos said in a statement.

Jonas, son of press freedom icon Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr., was abducted on April 28, 2007 at the Ever Gotesco mall in Commonwealth, Quezon City by suspected elements of the Philippine Army. He remains missing to this day.

The CHR investigation led by Commissioner Jose Mamauag found that the abduction of Jonas is “not a simple case of kidnapping done by some individuals within the military, but is, in fact, a part of the entire counter-insurgency program of the past administration wherein both military and police forces played a crucial role in its enforcement.”

The CHR was tasked [2] by the Supreme Court to investigate the abduction of Jonas. In its resolution, the high court noted that there were “significant lapses” in the police investigation. The Burgos family filed a petition seeking the reversal of the decision of the Court of Appeals denying their petition for writ of amparo and absolving police and military officials implicated in the Burgos case.

In the report signed by Mamauag, the CHR has asked the Supreme Court to direct Army Lt. Harry Baliaga Jr. to produce Jonas. Baliaga was known to have been assigned to the 56th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan. The license plate of one of the vehicles used in Burgos’ abduction was traced to a vehicle under the custody of the Army battalion.

The CHR recommended the filing of kidnapping charges against Baliaga who was identified by two witnesses as among those who abducted Jonas. The commission also urged the high court to grant the petition for writ of amparo filed by Mrs. Burgos.

“After almost four years of waiting, we finally see a glimmer of hope…” Mrs. Burgos said. “While we seem to have won this battle, the real measure of success is the recovery of my son. We shall continue the fight until Jonas is returned to us, alive and well and justice is served.”

Command Responsibility

The Burgos family deems that Baliaga “will not act without orders from higher authorities.”

The CHR said the assignment of criminal responsibility must not be confined to the few soldiers who executed the crime. “If ever, they are mere henchmen of the hierarchy of fear that held sway in the past. What is more fundamental is how the principle of command responsibility may be made to bear against the higher-ups who ordered the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, an activist and critic of the former regime,” the CHR said in a statement.

“A judicial determination in line with the facts as found by the CHR investigation can only lead to the conclusion that personalities bigger and more powerful personalities than Lt. Col. Baliaga were responsible for Jonas Burgos’ disappearance, and, in all probability, for the many other cases of enforced disappearance and extra-legal killings in the past administration,” the CHR further said.?

In a phone interview with Bulatlat.com, JL said all those who they named as respondents to their petition before the Supreme Court must be held accountable. They are former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, then AFP chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon; former army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino; Maj. Gen. Juanito Gomez, commander of the army’s 7th Infantry Division that has jurisdiction over the 56th IB; Lt. Cols. Noel Clement and Melquiades Feliciano, former 56th IB commanders; and then Police Dir. Gen. Oscar Calderon.

“Arroyo then, as commander in chief of the AFP, had the power to surface Jonas but she did not do it,” JL said.

In a separate statement, Mary Guy Portajada, secretary general of Desaparecidos, said the prosecution of those involved in Jonas’s case should go up to Arroyo.

AFP’s Reaction

In a report, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta denied custody of Jonas. “We don’t have any idea of his [Jonas] whereabouts. We’ve been trying to look for him since day one,” Mabanta said.

JL said the AFP knew since day one where his brother was.

The AFP has created a task force [3] to determine the contents of the CHR report and to “dig deeper” into Jonas’s abduction. The task force is composed of a representative from the office of Inspectorate General, Provost Marshal General, Judge Advocate General’s Office and AFP’s Human Right Office.

JL expressed apprehensions on the task force, noting that members of the task force were allegedly involved in the cover up, citing in particular the Provost Marshal General [4] that refused to release their report on Jonas’s abduction. “They were only compelled to release it after the court threatened to cite them for contempt,” JL said. “Now, they will be the ones who will coordinate with the CHR. I fear that they would muddle the issue,” JL told Bulatlat.com.

JL further revealed that the Provost Marshal General deleted the name of 1st Lt. Jaime Mendaros, a former intelligence officer of the 56th IB, in its report. JL said it was Mendaros who prepared a document citing that Jonas should be neutralized, a military’s euphemism for killing or abduction.

“The CHR recommendations are clear. What else do they [the military] need? They should surface Jonas. From day one, we do not believe that they are searching for him. Release all documents pertaining to Jonas’s abduction. Hold accountable all those involved,” JL said.

Desaparecidos’s Portajada agreed, saying that the AFP should immediately comply with the CHR recommendations, instead of creating a technical panel to study the findings. “It took four long years for a government agency to come out with favorable findings on the Burgos case, we don’t want to add more and lengthen the process by undue processes that would only delay the serving of justice to victims,” Portajada said.

Col. Domingo Tutaan, head of the AFP HRO, said in a news conference that Baliaga had since been promoted to the rank of major. Tutaan did not say, however, where Baliaga is now assigned.

In a statement, CHR chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales welcomes the AFP’s shift to “human rights-based paradigm from militarist solutions” and expressed confidence that state security reforms will lead to respect for human rights.

“That has yet to be seen. Policies that cause human rights violations are still there. They should first prove that they have the political will to punish perpetrators of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings,” JL said.

Mrs Burgos challenged the new administration: “We appeal to President Noynoy Aquino. You have always pronounced that the rule of law must prevail. As Commander-in-Chief, it is time to show the military that you will never condone any wrongdoing. Mr. President, the military must be the first to follow the ‘tuwid na daan’ (righteous path).”

Criminalize Enforced Disappearances

Desaparecidos reiterated its call for the passage of the Anti-Enforced Disappearance bill, seeking to criminalize enforced disappearances.

In the absence of a law punishing perpetrators of enforced disappearances, Baliaga, if found guilty, would be charged with kidnapping.

Portajada explained: “Kidnapping is illegally seizing a person by force and against his will; it also involves the use of ransom for the surfacing of the illegally detained person. This eliminates the political motive of the state forces to disappear a person. While with enforced disappearance, a person is disappeared for political reasons by state security forces; thus both state security forces and the commander in chief will be held responsible. This would mean that even former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo can be held liable for Jonas’s disappearance and even that of other victims.”

Desaparecidos also said there are still a number of similar cases pending before the Supreme Court, citing the cases of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, the two missing University of the Philippines students, Romulo Robiños and Leo Velasco among others. “We are hoping that the respective courts and government agencies follow suit and come out with favorable responses on the said cases,” she said. (Ronalyn V. Olea, Bulatlat.Com)

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