With family and human rights defenders, a mother sustains hope of seeing her missing son, despite the frustrating legal maze that springs coverups at every turn.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – In hopes of finding Jonas Burgos, Mrs. Edita Burgos and her family have turned to the judicial system but found it wanting.
“We went through the legal process and here we are now,” Mrs. Burgos said in an interview a few days before the fifth year of the disappearance of her son. She encountered a labyrinth and she is still nowhere near finding even a trace of her missing son.
Just last week, the Court of Appeals ruled that the military documents related to the case are secret. In a five-page decision by Associate Justice Rosalinda Asuncion-Vicente, the CA’s special former seventh division said the documents, including the summary of information about the two suspects, are considered as confidential. In effect, the court has ruled that the military part of Mrs Burgos’ labyrinthine search for Jonas is untouchable.
Five years since Jonas has gone missing, the petition for habeas corpus remains languishing at the same CA division that had first dismissed the same plea four years before. It reasoned that the prosecution has failed to prove that the military was behind the abduction. In its July 2011 decision, the Supreme Court reverted the case to the appellate court.
“There is cover-up at every turn. They did not want us to find out what really happened to Jonas. They’ve been denying us documents,” Mrs. Burgos, now 68, said.
Lost in legal maze and cover-ups
A few days after Jonas was abducted by suspected state agents on April 28, 2007, the Burgos family filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
In June of the same year, she filed a complaint with the Quezon City police and the next month with the National Capital Region-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG). “The authorities never investigated the evidence we presented,” Mrs. Burgos said, referring to the license plate of the vehicle used in the abduction that was traced to the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
In August 2007, Mrs. Burgos filed a petition for habeas corpus with the Supreme Court and then a petition for writ of amparo in December of the same year.
On July 17, 2008, after 33 hearings in ten months, the CA dismissed the petition for habeas corpus, stating that Mrs. Burgos failed to show that the military was behind the abduction. The appellate court partially granted the petition for writ of amparo and directed the military and police to provide Mrs. Burgos all the documents she needed.
In August 2008, Mrs. Burgos appealed the CA’s decision to the Supreme Court. After almost a year, the high court merely ordered the CHR to reinvestigate the case because of “serious lapses” in the investigation of authorities.
On March 15, 2011, the CHR submitted its report and recommendations to the Supreme Court, which include the filing of criminal charges against Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. who was identified by two witnesses as one of those who abducted Jonas.
In June 2011, Mrs. Burgos filed charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention against Baliaga and other elements of the 56th IBPA. “We do not have a law yet criminalizing enforced disappearances and so we filed these charges,” she said.
Mrs. Burgos said the case, filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ), is still undergoing preliminary investigation.
Hope comes not from the government
“In these institutions (of the government), there is little hope,” Mrs. Burgos said. “But with parallel groups – the media, artists, human rights defenders – there is so much hope. Along with us, they have not given up.”
“We may have been denied our petitions in court. We may have been perplexed by inaction from the authorities. We may have been reduced to ‘just’ a number among those searching for the lost love, relegated to the pages of a report on human rights violations in the country. Yet the search has been a journey where hope, enkindled at the very start, has grown and has been nourished. For indeed, as we have read, heard and believed… grace would abound where trials exist,” Mrs. Burgos said in her statement.
“All I really want to know is the truth. I want to know what to pray for,” Mrs. Burgos said.
Mrs. Burgos said she prays every day not only for Jonas and for other desaparecidos but also for the perpetrators of enforced disappearances, that they may change their ways.
“It’s been so long. It is possible that he is gone. If he is alive, which is also possible, I want him to know that I have not given up,” Mrs. Burgos said.
Just last month, the family gathered to celebrate Jonas’s 42nd birthday. “We had cake. His daughter blew the candle. We cooked his favorite dishes.”