“Aquino would know what to do. Now is the opportunity to act on the cases of enforced disappearances. I hope he grants this opportunity to show the world that he is sincere in helping victims of human rights violations find justice. He must act immediately,” Mrs. Burgos said.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – After hearing the news, Mrs. Edita Burgos felt initial euphoria. She said the Supreme Court decision proves the family’s theory that the military was behind the abduction of her son Jonas.
In an en banc resolution dated July 5, the high court upheld the findings of the Commission on Human Rights and has directed the military to produce Jonas Burgos. The members of the high court unanimously concurred with the resolution written by Associate Justice Arturo Brion.
Burgos was abducted April 28, 2007 while he was having lunch at a restaurant inside the Ever Gotesco Mall in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.
“The decision is a welcome development in the campaign to stop impunity and to make the perpetrators of human rights violations accountable for their crimes. We are glad that the SC seems to be delivering a message that is loud and clear – that it is now time, belated as it is, to give justice to the kin of those missing like Jonas Burgos and the two university students,” Edre Olalia, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) secretary general, said.
Aquino urged to act
Mrs. Burgos holds a photo of her son Jonas. (File photo / bulatlat.com)
Mrs. Burgos said that as commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the ball is now in the hands of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
“He would know what to do. Now is the opportunity to act on the cases of enforced disappearances. I hope he grants this opportunity to show the world that he is sincere in helping victims of human rights violations find justice. He must act immediately,” Mrs. Burgos said.
In the same vein, human rights group Karapatan called on Aquino to use his power as commander-in-chief of the AFP to order the military to abide by the Supreme Court’s order to surface Jonas Burgos and ensure that those responsible for his abduction and disappearance will be punished. “Only then can decisions of the Courts have teeth and effect the lessening of, if not totally ending, impunity,” Karapatan said.
Meanwhile, NUPL, a group of human rights lawyers, noted Aquino’s silence on human rights issues. “ The group said that amid the recent decisions of the Supreme Court finding the AFP responsible for the abduction of missing activists, Aquino, as the commander-in-chief, “is not predisposed to make a policy that will come after human rights violators and discourage future perpetrators.”
“How come Aquino remains passive and eerily silent on the continuing impunity?”Olalia said. “It is tragically not one of his priorities. Does he tacitly condone these acts? Silence may be construed as acquiescence.”
NUPL noted that the inaction of the Aquino government with respect to the human rights situation in the country has led to 45 extrajudicial killings in Aquino’s first year.
Military’s denial expected
Mrs. Burgos said she expected the military’s denial. In a report, Commodore Miguel Rodriguez, AFP deputy chief of staff for civil military operations , maintained that the military was not behind the abduction.
“It’s too obvious,” Mrs. Burgos said. “They [AFP officials] would not even ask for an explanation from those involved.”
Witnesses identified 1st Lt. Harry Baliaga Jr. of the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion as one of those who took Jonas.
The NUPL raised misgivings about the military’s will to follow the Supreme Court (SC) ordering it to produce Jonas Burgos, as previous orders to produce other victims of enforced disappearances remain unheeded.
“It is highly doubtful that the AFP will faithfully follow the orders of the Supreme Court as they have refused to do so in other cases where a writ of amparo or habeas corpus is granted in favor of desaparecidos. Will the military really cooperate and rectify the horrific injustice they have done? Will it admit beyond its rhetoric its complicity as an institution in the abduction of Jonas Burgos?” Olalia said.
Earlier, the AFP was also directed to immediately release UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño and farmer Manuel Merino.
The high court also issued a writ of habeas corpus and ordered the Court of Appeals to revive the habeas corpus case filed by Mrs. Burgos against the military. The tribunal said Baliaga should be made a respondent in the habeas corpus case .Current respondents are incumbent Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr., incumbent Army commander Maj. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, and the heads of the 56th Infantry Battalion and 7th Infantry Division during the time of the abduction.
The SC said that the appellate court should hear the case again and render a decision 30 days after the case is deemed submitted for decision. In July 2008, the CA junked the petition of Mrs. Burgos, saying that there was no sufficient evidence proving the military’s involvement in the abduction of her son. Mrs. Burgos then filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, which ordered the CHR to conduct an investigation into Burgos’ disappearance.
“It [decision] proves that we are telling the truth, that our testimonies are based on evidence,” Mrs. Burgos said.
The high court also noted the “deliberate refusal” of the Judge Advocate General (TJAG) of the AFP, to furnish documents pertaining to Jonas’ disappearance. The high court ordered TJAG, the AFP’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (J1), and former AFP chief of staff Ricardo David to show cause and explain why they should not be held in contempt for defying its order to provide the CHR the documents that can be relevant in investigating Jonas’ disappearance.
Mrs. Burgos maintained that former president now Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is liable for the disappearance of her son.
The resolution ordered the dropping of Arroyo as respondent.
“This is our frustration. We do not have laws on Anti-Enforced Disappearance and command responsibility.” Mrs. Burgos said.
“She was the commander-in-chief [of the AFP]. She could have found him if she wanted to,” Mrs. Burgos said, referring to Arroyo.
Karapatan urged Aquino to go after Arroyo. “It is hard to believe that Arroyo is ignorant of these heinous cases of human rights violations that happened when she was the commander-in-chief of the Philippine Armed Forces,” the group said.
The group reiterated that enforced disappearances are part of the counter-insurgency program implemented by the Arroyo administration – the Oplan Bantay Laya I and II – that targeted activists and other human rights defenders.
Mrs. Burgos said the SC decision supports the criminal complaint she filed before the Department of Justice last June. Arbitrary detention charges were filed against 1st Lt. Harry Baliaga Jr., Lt. Col. Melquiades Feliciano, Col. Eduardo Ano, and other members of the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion, the unit that allegedly carried out the abduction and disappearance.
“How long will the process take? We will continue, no matter how long or difficult. It has been four years. Sometimes, I am saddled with negative thoughts but at the end, we will continue until we find Jonas,” Mrs. Burgos said.