By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Mrs. Edita Burgos, mother of desaparecidos Joseph Jonas Burgos, said on Tuesday that the failure of the commanding officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and its Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) to attend the hearing of the Court of Appeals seems to indicate that it is now the whole military institution that is behind the cover up of the enforced disappearance of her son more than four years ago.
“Before I understood well why they did not want to attend the hearings because I thought that I was only dealing with certain individuals,” Mrs. Burgos told Bulatlat.com, referring to members of the military who are respondents to the case, “But now it seems that it is the whole institution that is doing the cover up of my son’s abduction.”
The incumbent head of the PNP, newly appointed Director General Nicanor Bartolome, and CIDG director Chief Supt. Samuel Pagdilao were asked to testify on September 13 why their agencies have failed to produce CIDG’s three witnesses, namely Marlon Manuel, Melissa Reyes and Emerito Lipio in the CA hearing on September 7. According to the three witnesses, who claim to be former members of the New People’s Army, the Communist Party of the Philippines is behind the abduction of the young Burgos.
Jonas, son of press freedom icon Joe Burgos and an activist himself, was abducted on April 28, 2007 while eating in a restaurant at the Ever Gotesco Mall, along Commonwealth, Quezon City. He has been missing since then. Despite evidences and eyewitness accounts that pointed to the military, the CIDG insisted on the version of three supposed witnesses. The Department of Justice eventually dismissed the PNP’s findings.
The petitioners in the case said the three CIDG witnesses seem to have information that would be of help not just to prove that there was indeed a cover up during the initial investigation by the authorities but also to locate Jonas. The PNP and CIDG, however, insisted that they are unable to locate the three. Yet, only last year, the Commission on Human Rights was able to talk to Reyes in person, Lipio over the phone and to Manuel’s mother using the contact information that was handed to them by the PNP and CIDG.
“It is strange that one moment last year, before the CHR report, the CIDG had no problems locating the three. And now, after the CHR report, they could no longer locate them,” Mrs. Burgos said, quoting their lawyer Ricardo Fernandez during the CA hearing.
The CHR conducted its own investigation last year after the Supreme Court ordered for the reinvestigation of Jonas’s enforced disappearance, citing “serious lapses” during the initial investigation. The reinvestigation led the CHR to eyewitness Joseph Cabintoy who managed to pinpoint Lt. Harry Baliaga, a former member of the 56th Infantry Battalion, as one of those who abducted Jonas.
When sent a subpoena to testify why they were unable to produce the three witnesses, the PNP and CIDG replied with a motion to quash the subpoena, citing that they do not have “personal knowledge” on the Jonas Burgos abduction case. Assistant Solicitor General Sarah Jane Fernandez, representing the respondents, said during the hearing that the testimony of PNP’s Bartolome and CIDG’s Pagdilao would not be material to the case.
According to Fernandez, Bartolome, who was only appointed last September 9, would not have knowledge on how the search for the three witnesses were conducted. She added, said Mrs. Burgos, that the two high ranking officials are “not the best witnesses” to this case and asking them to testify would be a “waste of time.”
Mrs. Burgos countered that their lawyer Ricardo Fernandez “vehemently opposed” the motion to quash the subpoena citing that doing so would be inconsistent with the order of the Supreme Court to “identify all parties involved” and their “accountability and responsibility” to the enforced disappearance of Jonas.
Mrs. Burgos said that as head of their respective offices, having no personal knowledge on the case should not deter them from testifying in court because “it is expected that they are privy to more information than their subordinates.”
“The responsibility and accountability of the military as an institution does not end with their officers’ term,” Mrs. Burgos said, “The leadership of these institutions are expected to change from time to time, even our President is new. But they still continue to cover up their lies instead of admitting what they have done wrong in the past.”