Call to surface missing activist James Balao persists

Northern Dispatch
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BAGUIO CITY—Relatives and colleagues marked the third year of the disappearance of James Moy Balao with protests, Sept. 17.

Balao or Manong James, as his colleagues fondly call him, was abducted on Sept. 17, 2008 in Lower Tomay, La Trinidad, Benguet. Eyewitnesses said Balao was taken by five men in civilian clothes. Abductors reportedly told onlookers that Balao was a drug pusher. He was taken to Camp Dangwa, the regional headquarters of the Philippine National Police, according to witnesses. The police, however, denied any responsibility for the abduction. Balao remains missing to this day.

Balao belongs to a Kankaney-Ibaloi tribe. He is the founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a graduate of University of the Philippines, Baguio and a staunch advocate of indigenous people’s right for self determination.

In the last 1,097days since Balao was abducted, the Balao family, James’s friends and colleagues did not stop searching. They exhausted every possible means in their search. They scoured almost all army camps in Northern Luzon, petitioned concerned government agencies, sought the help of the halls of justice, marched the streets in condemnation and many other various activities yet to no avail.

“It is sad that James parents died without seeing their son alive and free,” Mary Guy Porajada, secretary general of Desaparecidos, said in a statement. His mother, Jane suffered from Alzheimer’s disease which prevented her from comprehending that her son was missing. She died in June 2010. James’s father Arthur Balao passed away in August of the same year.

“It is with a heavy heart that James’s siblings brought their parents to their resting place with him still missing,” Portajada said.

Last June 12, the Balao family, along with local and international organizations, appealed to the Aquino administration to take action and surface Balao reiterating that state security forces were the ones who took James. Around 8, 000 of postcards from all over the country and abroad were sent to Malacañang since June this year. However, the present administration has yet to heed the calls to surface James and other victims of enforced disappearances.

Portajada slammed the Aquino administration’s failure to act on cases of the disappeared.

According to Karapatan, there are eight cases of enforced disappearances in the first year of the Aquino administration. The same report recorded 48 victims of extrajudicial killings, 29 torture cases, 151 cases of illegal arrests and 3,010 victims of forced evacuation from rural villages.

The group said that Oplan Bayanihan, the counter insurgency program of the Aquino administration, resulted to rampant violations of human rights similar to the darkest years of martial rule.

Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) secretary general Jude Baggo said the deployment of troops called Peace and Development Teams in the interiors of the Cordillera under the Oplan Bayanihan continues to endanger and disrupt the lives of indigenous communities in the region. He said the soldiers have occupied village halls, day care centers and even the homes of residents.
Baggo also said that the soldiers continue to vilify progressive people’s organizations using the same materials used under the Oplan Bantay Laya of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration.

It can be recalled that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) came up with a power point presentation called “Knowing Your Enemy” where legitimate organizations were labeled as front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)-New People’s Army (NPA).

Baggo also reiterated that the Aquino administration, despite strong pronouncements of upholding human rights, failed to break the culture of impunity. He noted that despite all the cases filed, no perpetrator has been punished.

Amid the sorry state of human rights in the country, Baggo encouraged everyone to assert and defend their rights and to continue seeking justice for all the victims. “Fascism and violence will never prevail over the truth,” Baggo said in Iloco. (With reports from

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