By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After almost two years, the Supreme Court finally issued a resolution on the petition for certiorari filed by Edita Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas. The petition seeks the intervention of the High Court to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals absolving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other military and police officials in the abduction of Jonas.
Jonas, son of press freedom icon Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr., was abducted on April 28, 2007 at Ever Gotesco mall in Commonwealth, Quezon City by suspected elements of the Philippine Army.
In a 16-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Arturo Brion, the Supreme Court directed the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the disappearance of Jonas after noting significant lapses in the police investigation.
The Court en banc said lapses in the investigation conducted by the Philippine National Police-Criminal investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) prevents the court from ruling on a petition seeking the reversal of the Court of Appeals’ decision absolving police and military officials implicated in the Burgos case.
The Court said the PNP-CIDG failed to identify sketches of two of the four alleged abductors of Burgos. The police also failed to verify information provided by State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco that four members of the Armed Forces Military Intelligence Group 15 — T/Sgt. Jason Roxas (Philippine Army), Cpl. Maria Joana Francisco (Philippine Air Force), M/Sgt. Aron Arroyo ( Philippine Air Force), and an alias T.L. — were involved in the abduction.
Mrs. Burgos was not at all happy with the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Did it have to take so long for the Supreme Court to find out that the investigators made serious lapses? We were required by the Court of Appeals to submit our response in five days after it penned its resolution which we did but the Supreme Court took five weeks short of 2 years simply to say that it cannot rule on the case because there were lapses in the investigation?” Mrs. Burgos said in a letter to the justices dated June 23, a copy of which was sent to Bulatlat.
“Considering the findings of the CA and our review of the records of the present case, we conclude that the PNP and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) have so far failed to conduct an exhaustive and meaningful investigation into the disappearance of Jonas Burgos; and to exercise the extra ordinary diligence (in the performance of their duties) that the Rule on the Writ Amparo requires,” the SC said.
For Mrs. Burgos, however, the lapses were efforts to cover up the identity of the perpetrators.
“Instead of rejoicing that the high court has finally acted on our case, I can only express my disappointment. It is very sad, indeed. Instead of ruling on our petition, the Supreme Court just passed on the burden to another institution . . . prolonging our agony, diminishing our chances of finding Jonas, and to make matters worse, putting the blame on us. Why is this so, your honors?” asked Mrs. Burgos.
Mrs. Burgos said they sought the help of the CHR but the investigation was closed when she was “unjustly accused of being uncooperative.” They then sought the help of the Philippine National Police and then the Armed Forces of the Philippines but were just given a run around. They then brought the case to the Department of Justice.
“And now you are asking us to go back to the CHR. Will this be a new start of going around in circles again? If the serious lapses were committed by the police, why are they not punished instead of passing on the burden to us, the victims, and to the CHR whose mandate to investigate is limited?” Mrs. Burgos said.
On July 16, 2007, Supreme Court granted the petition for habeas corpus. In December 2007, the Court of Appeals granted the writ of amparo to the Burgos family.
“This is blatantly a whitewash disguised as judicial hogwash. The writ of amparo, much-trumpeted by the Supreme Court, has become merely a tool of the courts to further obfuscate and muddle the issue,” the Free Jonas Burgos Movement said in a statement.
Loss of Trust
“We have been hoping that cases concerning petitions for the Writ of Amparo would be dealt with expeditiously by the courts considering the urgency of the matter. But today I can say with certainty that this is not so. It is a useless exercise. Do we really have to add another 90 days for a case that you have been handling for almost two years? How can the eroded trust be restored? The better question is why should I even attempt to have this trust restored?” Mrs. Burgos said further.
Named respondents to the petition are 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 as the respondents.
“The smallest ray of hope to find my son Jonas, pinned on the highest court of the land, but it has just been shattered,” Mrs. Burgos added.
Mrs. Burgos said the Supreme Court is ‘obviously washing its hands over the alleged cover up of the investigation,” noting that the court did not even give a hint on whether or not the military officers and personnel tagged in the case are guilty or not.
“Justice delayed is justice denied. But the Supreme Court seems not to be on the side of truth and justice but wallows in indecision and official deniability,” the Free Jonas Burgos Movement said in a statement. “This is an atrocity against our family and against our people’s right to seek swift justice.”
“After making the Burgos family wait for more than a year for the Supreme Court ruling on the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos, the decision is still found wanting,” Lorena Santos, deputy secretary general of Desaparecidos, said.
Commander in chief
The Supreme Court also agreed with the Court of Appeal’s decision in dropping President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as respondent in the case. Majority of the justices were appointed by Arroyo.
“Under the principle of command responsibility, she is responsible for the actuations of her subordinates,” Mrs. Burgos told Bulatlat in a phone interview.
Mrs. Burgos said the Supreme Court failed to see the trend in enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses. “There is cover up to the highest level, to the presidency,” Mrs. Burgos added.
After the abduction, Mrs. Burgos said she wrote Arroyo a letter asking for help. “She said would try to help and told me to talk to her chief of staff, who was always unavailable. If indeed she wanted to help, she could surface Jonas,” Mrs. Burgos told Bulatlat.
Desaparecidos also believes that Arroyo must be held accountable. “She is the commander-in-chief of the AFP and her Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch) gives power to the military to abduct and disappear people like Jonas,” Santos said.
The Search Continues
Mrs. Burgos said they will continue to search for Jonas. “I believe that he is still alive, and his military captors must surface him. If he is dead, they must show me his body, and justice must prevail,” she said.
Mrs. Burgos said they will consider filing a formal complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Council. “We have nowhere else to go,” Mrs. Burgos said.
Mrs. Burgos said she is hoping that incoming President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino would be a different kind of president. She said she would ask Aquino to look into the justice system. “I hope that this is not an omen of things to come for all other cases of human rights violations,” Mrs. Burgos said, noting how a high-profile case like Jonas would turn out this way. (Bulatlat.com)