By BENJIE OLIVEROS
In a landmark decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should be held accountable for the enforced disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos. The decision of the Appeals court on the writ of habeas corpus and the writ of amparo petitions filed by the Burgos family also pointed to Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr, who was then assigned to the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as responsible for Jonas’s forcible abduction.
Initially saying that they would cooperate and that the AFP respects human rights and the rule of law, the AFP made a sudden turnaround when, perhaps, it realized the gravity of the impact of the decision that clearly points to their culpability. It is now saying that they are exploring their legal options, which generally means that they are preparing legal counter-measures. The AFP also admitted that Maj. Harry Baliaga is still in active duty.
True to its role of “cleaner” of the AFP by making sure that the investigation does not result in the identification of the real culprits from among the armed forces and always goes in the direction of the “purge within the NPA” wastebasket conclusion, Police Director General Alan Purisima immediately dismissed the Appeals court decision and declared that there is no evidence to implicate anybody. It could be remembered that despite the police blotter filed by the family and the leads and evidences they provided, the police still concluded that Jonas was abducted in a supposed purge with the ranks of the NPA. They even produced three witnesses, who are now enlisted personnel of the AFP, to bolster their ridiculously made-up conclusion.
However, the noose is tightening on the AFP, and the Philippine National Police is being dragged with it. The Burgos family presented incontrovertible evidences, which include a mug shot of Jonas taken immediately after his arrest, an After Apprehension Report, Psycho Social Processing Report, and an Autobiography of Jonas Burgos. These, according to the family, are copies of confidential official reports of the Philippine Army.
So what was the reaction of the Aquino government?
President Aquino ordered Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to conduct a “focused, exhaustive, and parallel” probe on the disappearance of activist-farmer Jonas Burgos. According to an interaksyon.com report, Justice Sec. De Lima, in turn, issued an “urgent memorandum” to NBI director Nonnatus Rojas to create a special team “to conduct a thorough and independent evaluation of all available information and evidence thus far gathered by various offices, including CHR, AFP and PNP” and to “pursue other possible leads, collect further evidence and take all other necessary steps towards the end of ferreting out the truth about the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, and determining who may be criminally charged under existing laws.”
It has been said that in any organization, the best way to postpone or derail any action on an important decision is to create a task force or a committee to further study the matter.
If the Aquino government is really serious in ferreting out the truth, the president should issue an urgent order to the AFP to produce Jonas Burgos. After all the Court of Appeals has already concluded that the AFP is responsible; and this conclusion is the result of a rigorous examination of the evidences and testimonies at hand.
The decision of the Appeals court was not an easy one; it has grave political implications on the AFP and the Aquino government, so I don’t think the justices would rush to a conclusion that would reverberate throughout the whole government. It was a well thought-out conclusion that would, if taken seriously and implemented, be an important step toward addressing impunity in the country.
If the president sincerely wants to determine who should be criminally charged for the forcible abduction of Jonas, he should order the arrest and interrogation of Major Harry Baliaga Jr.. (Is he still a major or has he already been promoted for his diligence in abducting activists?) Has he not been identified by the Court of Appeals as one of those who forcibly abducted Jonas Burgos?
President Aquino should also order the preventive suspension of General Eduardo Año, head of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and order an investigation into his culpability for the crime.
Time is critical in a case of enforced disappearance. It spells the difference between life and death, prolonging or putting a stop to the agony and sufferings of the victim and his or her family. It has been six years since Jonas Burgos was forcibly abducted. How much more time does the Aquino government need to conduct another “parallel investigation”? For Jonas’s family and friends, for human rights advocates, and for all freedom-loving Filipinos, the investigation should have ended and Jonas Burgos should have already been surfaced yesterday.
Let us join hands with the Burgos family in their quest to have Jonas returned to his family and for justice for the abhorrent crime committed against Jonas and his family. After all, this struggle is not just for Jonas and his family; this is for all victims of human rights violations; this is for all of us so that our children would no longer have to suffer under the reign of impunity.