The implementation of the writ of amparo which takes effect Oct 24 gives hope to families of about 200 victims of enforced disappearances. A test case is that of activist-agriculturist Jonas Burgos who was abducted allegedly by state agents on April 28.
By Dabet Castañeda
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Vol. VII, No. 35, October 7-13, 2007
The case of activist-agriculturist Jonas Burgos, 36, who was allegedly abducted by state security forces on April 28 may yet be the test case of the writ of amparo, a court remedy available for victims of enforced disappearances. Amparo, a Spanish word meaning “to protect,” is set to take effect on Oct 24 as announced by the Supreme Court (SC).
The said court remedy was the major resolution arrived at during the Human Rights Summit conducted by the SC on July 16 and 17. Justices, human rights advocates, legal luminaries and families of victims of human rights violations strongly suggested the implementation of the writ of amparo, as the available remedy at present the writ of habeas corpus has been proven ineffective in solving the escalating number of enforced disappearances.
Burden of proof
In the writ of amparo, it would not be enough for military and police officials to deny having custody of the missing person subject of the writ. Section 17 states that the burden of proof lies in the hands of the alleged abductors.
Furthermore, the same section says “the respondent public official or employee cannot invoke the presumption that official duty has been regularly performed to evade responsibility or liability.”
In the case of Burgos, respondents Lt. Col. Noel S. Clement, commanding officer of the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IB PA), and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) Chief Maj. Gen. Delfin Bangit said they “have no custody of Burgos.”
However, in their petition for contempt, lawyers of the Burgos family said “evidence point to the fact that at one time or another, the respondents HAD custody of Jonas. The fact that the registration plate number TAB 194 has been established to have been in the custody of the 56th IB – under LTC Clement and LTC Feliciano – creates a direct link between the abductors and the Philippine Army.”
This is one of the reasons stated by the lawyers to prove that the Returns submitted by the respondents are False Returns. “The allegations made by the respondents manifest lies and are contrary to fact and evidence,” the Burgos’ lawyers said in their petition.
If the writ of amparo is to be used as guide for the resolution of this case, the court could not merely dismiss the case after the respondents’ denial.
In a separate interview, Jonas’ mother, Edita, said the writ of amparo maybe applied to the case of her son without necessarily filing a petition for the same. “Our petition for contempt seeks for the implementation of the writ of amparo. Since disappearance is a continuing crime, the said court remedy can be applied for the case of Jonas,” she said.
“If the Supreme Court answers all the petitions, it will be in effect utilizing amparo,” Mrs. Burgos further explained.
Meanwhile, Edita Burgos recently attended the sixth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in Geneva to bring to the UN’s attention the case of Jonas.
“In a situation like this it is difficult to find sources of hope, (the attendance to the UN) gives us more hope,” said Mrs. Burgos.
“I went there not only for the case of Jonas but also for other desaparecidos. I hope they would all be found alive,” the Burgos widow said.
Lawyer Edre Olalia, one of the Filipino delegates to the UN together with Mrs. Burgos, said they have also brought up the cases of the two missing University of the Philippines (UP) students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, the disappearances of some eight consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to the peace negotiations, and torture victims Rev. Berlin Guerrero and Angelina Ipong. The case of the Batasan 6 was also discussed, Olalia said.
Invite the WGEID
Mrs. Burgos challenged the Arroyo government to respond to their request to invite the UN’s Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) to conduct investigations in the Philippines.
In March 2006, the WGEID sent notice to the Philippine government that it would want to conduct investigations in the country but the UN group could not come over without formal invitation from the Arroyo administration.
“If the government in really sincere, it should respond to this notification,” Mrs. Burgos said.
Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights) secretary general Marie Hilao-Enriquez, who was also with the Philippine delegation to the UN, said they attended the UN session to remind the council that the issues raised during the Phillip Alston report are not being addressed by the Arroyo administration.
Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions, visited the country in April to investigate the numerous political and media killings in the country.