By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Would the request of a victim’s mother be enough for the police to investigate the alleged involvement of an Army officer in the enforced disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos?
This was the question posed by lawyer Ricardo Fernandez, counsel of Jonas’s mother Edita Burgos, to Gen. Samuel Pagdilao, director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) during a hearing at the Court of Appeals, Nov. 8.
Pagdilao who took the witness stand, did not answer directly. “We need a definite order to further investigate,” Pagdilao said.
The Court of Appeals (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 appellate court.
The CIDG has not pursued the lead provided by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) naming Lt. Harry Baliaga Jr., who was formerly assigned to the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, as one of the abductors.
Jonas was taken by alleged state agents on April 28, 2007 while eating inside a restaurant in a mall in Quezon City. The plate number used by the abductors, TAB 194, has been traced to the 56th IBPA camp in Bulacan.
Fernandez asked if Pagdilao knew that Baliaga was identified by a witness as one of those who took Jonas. Pagdilao replied, “[That is] according to the [CHR] report.”
“What did the CIDG do with the CHR report?” Fernandez asked further. “I will refer that to the investigators,” the CIDG chief said. He assumed the post in April this year. “I have to be enlightened about what transpired.”
“The CIDG has not done anything with Baliaga?” Fernandez asked. Pagdilao said, “We have to receive a directive from the CHR.” Pagdilao said the Supreme Court mandated his office to provide direct investigative assistance to the CHR.
Fernandez then asked what direct investigative assistance has the PNP-CIDG extended to the CHR, if any, in relation to the alleged involvement of Baliaga. Pagdilao did not answer the question and instead said the CIDG assisted in the location of three witnesses who testified in support of the CIDG’s earlier theory—that the New People’s Army (NPA) was behind the abduction.
“On your own initiative, you did not investigate Baliaga’s involvement?” Fernandez asked. “No, sir,” Pagdilao said.
Police findings debunked
“Until the DOJ [Department of Justice] says our case has no probable cause, we cannot reinvestigate,” Pagdilao said.
Pagdilao was referring to the case the CIDG filed with the DOJ on July 31, 2008 implicating a certain Delfin de Guzman and other alleged former NPA guerrillas in the abduction of Jonas.
The case before the DOJ was eventually dismissed, citing judicial courtesy. At that time, Mrs. Burgos filed a petition for writ of amparo.
The CHR report dated March 15 debunked the CIDG’s theory. “As regards the PNP-CIDG, the positive identification of former 56th IB officer Lt. Harry A. Baliaga Jr. as one of the principal abductors has effectively crushed the theory of the CIDG witnesses that the NPAs abducted Jonas,” the report said.
The CHR investigated the Burgos case in compliance with an order issued by the high court in June 2010.
In its 16-page resolution, the SC said: “…[w]e 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.” The high court cited this as a reason why it cannot rule yet on the petition for writ of amparo filed by Mrs. Burgos.
“We don’t have any reason to dismiss the earlier findings,” Pagdilao said, adding that doing so “would be an injustice to the work of the CIDG.”
Fernandez asked if the CIDG had investigated Delfin de Guzman. Pagdilao again said he has to refer to the records of the CIDG.
Fernandez asked the CIDG chief if he knew that a certain Delfin de Guzman testified before the same court sometime in September or October. “I was not aware of that,” Pagdilao said.
Fernandez said Delfin de Guzman who testified in the same court said that another Delfin de Guzman is detained at the Bulacan Provincial Jail. “Do you know that there is more than one Delfin de Guzman?” Fernandez asked Pagdilao.
Pagdilao said he did not know and that he would call for a case conference and ask the investigators who handled the case. Pagdilao said it was Senior Supt. Joel Napoleon Coronel, former regional director of the National Capital Region (NCR) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), who led the investigation.
During the previous hearing, Oct. 12, Coronel said the PNP has not included the military yet as suspect. He also admitted they were not able to compare the cartographic sketches to the photographs of the 56th IB personnel.
In a notice dated Sept. 6, the SC directed the PNP-CIDG to file a comment on the CHR report. The Office of Solicitor General (OSG) said it has personally sent to the CA the PNP’s comment.
The CA, however, has not received a copy. A photocopy was then provided by the OSG. Justice Remedios Sanchez-Fernando scanned the PNP’s comment. “As far as Baliaga is concerned, [there is] no mention.”
“It’s a general comment. With due respect to the CHR report, we are standing by our earlier investigation,” Pagdilao said.
Justice Rosario Vicente said the SC directive is clear, for the PNP to file a comment on the CHR report. “It [Filing a general comment] is not giving justice to the CHR report.”
“Can you not take the initiative based on the complaint of Mrs. Burgos?” Vicente asked.
“We really need to have an order,” was Pagdilao’s reply.
“The victim’s mother has been looking for a son for four years already,” Fernandez said.
All throughout the hearing, Mrs. Burgos was holding the crucifix in her necklace, uttering a prayer. His Jonas is still missing as the police refuses to look into an angle that would possibly lead her to him.