“Are technical matters more important than the life of a person?” – Mrs. Edita Burgos said after the Court of Appeals denied the request to show the photograph of a female soldier linked to the abduction of her son Jonas
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA –Mrs. Edita Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas, was not able to control her tears. The mother who has been looking for her son for more than four years could not hide her frustration at the Court of Appeals (CA) hearing today.
The CA Special 7th Division is again hearing the habeas corpus petition filed by Mrs. Burgos after the Supreme Court, in a decision issued in July, reverted back the case to the CA. The same division of the appellate court dismissed the habeas corpus petition in June 2008, saying the prosecution failed to prove that the military was behind the abduction.
In today’s hearing, October 12, lawyer Ricardo Fernandez, counsel of the petitioner, called on the CA justices to enjoin the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to show the photograph of a certain Lt. Fernando who has been identified by a witness, through a cartographic sketch, as one of those who took Jonas. Jonas was abducted on April 28, 2007 at a restaurant inside a mall in Quezon City.
Fernandez said the identification of the female suspect “could establish the link between the abductors and the military.”
Before the start of the hearing, Assistant Solicitor General Amparo Tang, counsel of the public respondents, showed a copy of the summary of information of 1st Lt. Rachel Fernando-Facunda, formerly assigned to the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, to Fernandez. When Fernandez insisted that Tang show the photograph of the female soldier to the justices and to Senior Supt. Joel Napoleon Coronel, former regional director of the National Capital Region (NCR) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Tang objected.
Tang said the SC resolution clearly states that the summary of information and the other documents were submitted by the OSG exclusively to the high court. “The SC will be the one to determine the relevance and the advisability of public disclosure of these documents. To show this summary of information would be preempting the SC,” Tang argued.
“This is a chance for the petitioners to establish the direct link [of the military to the abduction]. That photo could be the female in the [cartographic] sketch,” Fernandez pointed out.
According to one of the memoranda issued by NCR CIDG on the case of Jonas in 2007, the Quezon City Police District made seven sketches of suspects based on the descriptions of witnesses. Only two – one male and a female – however, were attached to the documents submitted by authorities to the courts. When asked about this, Coronel said the other five were not subscribed to by the witnesses and he never had the chance to see the sketches.
Justice Rosario Vicente asked Coronel, then chief of the NCR-CIDG and who was at the witness stand, if cartographic sketches are reliable in identifying suspects. Coronel answered yes. “It baffles us why you have not attempted to identify the female composite sketch.”
Coronel said they asked for a roster of the 56th IB but the Army refused, citing security reasons. “Had the Army given us the roster, we would be able to see the photographs and show them to the witnesses,” Coronel said.
“The police itself asked for these photos and they were denied. How possible is it for the petitioner herself to get this information? It is impossible. This information is available right now,” Fernandez said.
“Given the testimony of the witness [Coronel], it has become material and relevant. In 2007, he was not able to compare the photo to the sketch. We’re not making this up. This name cropped up in the CHR [Commission on Human Rights] report. We’re just following up on that report,” Fernandez said.
The lawyer of the petitioner was referring to the CHR report issued in March. Based on that report, the CHR interviewed a rebel returnee named as Maria Vita Lozada who, upon being shown the sketch of the female suspect, identified Fernando. Lozada said she worked with Fernando in counterinsurgency operations when she was still in the custody of the 56th IBPA from March 2006 until she left the 56th IB headquarters in October 2007. Jeffrey Cabintoy, a former busboy at Hapag Kainan restaurant, a key witness, provided the description of the female abductor.
“It leads us to the possibility of being able to identify the female in the sketch,” Fernandez said.
Tang said the summary of information contains information about the soldier’s family and could endanger her safety. She reiterated that the documents are “for the eyes of the SC only.”
“We are not asking for a copy of the summary of information. We only want to show the photo to the justices and to the police investigator. We don’t want to miss the opportunity to establish that there is a possibility of direct link between the abductors and the military,” Fernandez said.
“I do not agree with the interpretation of Assistant Solicitor General Tang. It is too narrow and limited. We’re looking for a missing person here. It has been four years and we’re still looking for him. This is a chance to get close to find that person,” Fernandez said.
“The reason why the SC ordered us to come back here is to find out more facts, more truth. Otherwise, it would have upheld the dismissal of the petition,” Fernandez said.
Vicente said the CA just has to abide by the SC instruction. “There is no reason for us to still show the photo to Senior Supt. Coronel because he is no longer part of the investigation. There is still an ongoing investigation by the CIDG. It’s incumbent upon the CIDG to complete their investigation,” Vicente said.
After hearing this, Mrs. Burgos wiped her tears. She held her novena prayer in another hand.
“Are technical matters more important than the life of a person?” Mrs. Burgos said after the hearing.
Military not considered as suspects
Fernandez categorically asked Coronel if the Philippine National Police (PNP)-CIDG ever considered the military as suspect in the abduction of Jonas.
“We have not included the military yet as suspect,” Coronel said, but added that they have requested for a roster of 56th IB personnel to establish a possible connection.
“You did not consider them as suspects notwithstanding that the plate number used in the getaway vehicle was traced to the 56th IB?” Fernandez asked.
“They [investigators] found the vehicle [at the 56th IB camp] but the plate number was no longer attached to the said vehicle,” Coronel said.