Court rebukes police for lapses in probing disappearance of activist

Northern Dispatch

BAGUIO CITY — In a 13-page final report, a local court said a Philippine National Police (PNP) task force failed to present substantial lead in the enforced disappearance of missing activist James Balao.

In her report dated April 8, Judge Jennifer Humiding of the Regional Trial Court Branch 63 expressed disappointment over the investigation being conducted by the PNP through its Special Investigation Task Force Group-Balao (STIFG-B).

“Disappointingly, the investigative efforts of the SITFG-B falls way below acceptable standards given today’s available technological and sophisticated measures,” Humiding said.

The said report was submitted to the Supreme Court (SC) pursuant to the directive of the SC December 13, 2011 decision directing the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to conduct impartial and substantial investigation and submit periodic reports to the RTC.

“The lapse of time with no substantial lead or development lends a sense of resignation and exasperation,” the court said in its findings. The court added that despite the creation of STIFG-B, the police was not able to present any result except the recantation of a witness and unverified and unconfirmed identities of possible suspects.

The court findings also mentioned that the STIFG-B failed to compare the composite sketches against AFP and PNP personnel records to rule out the participation of state security forces. The court also noted that the task force also failed to disseminate the sketches to the public for the possible location of their whereabouts.

“The ultimate measure of success of the investigative efforts is to recover James M. Balao, and to establish the identities of those responsible for his abduction. In a democracy, the uncertainty of his life, liberty and security bode ill for ours, as well. It is a looming threat to our collective security and safety,” the report read.

The court also pointed out the lack of continuity of the investigation. “Each new head of the task force has to contend with existing records, after awaiting a designation from higher authorities,” the court report read.

The original head of the task force was PSSPT Fortunato Basco who retired last year. The reorganized STIFG-B was headed by PSSUPT Benjamin M. Lusad who is now assigned as acting provincial director of Abra. Last January, PSS Rodolfo Azurin, Jr assumed as Benguet provincial director and head of the task force.

“Given the forgoing findings and observations, at this point in the investigation, undersigned cannot rule out the participation of the respondents in the disappearance of James M. Balao. Until the investigation is concluded can a finding be made. Time constraints and technical delays on the part of the STIFG-Balao hamper the conclusion of the investigation,” the final report added.

Named respondents in the petition for writ of amparo were then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Executive Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita, Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr.,Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo V. Puno, National Security Adviser (NSA) Norberto B. Gonzales, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander B. Yano, Philippine National Police (PNP) Police Director General Jesus A. Verzosa, Philippine Army (PA) Chief Brig. Gen. Reynaldo B. Mapagu, PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) Chief Lt. P/Dir. Edgardo Doromal, Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) Commander Maj. Gen. Isagani C. Cachuela, PNP-Cordillera Administrative Region Regional Director Police Senior Supt. Eugene Gabriel Martin, the Commanding Officer of the AFP Intelligence Service Unit (AFP-ISU) based in Baguio City and several John Does.

In its decision dated Dec. 13, 2011, the high court dropped Arroyo as one of the respondents, citing presidential immunity.

Humiding recommended the incumbent Chief of Staff of the AFP and the director general of the PNP to personally monitor the efforts of the STIFG-B until its conclusion; the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct independent and parallel investigations; the AFP and PNP to make available all documents pertaining to James Balao, officers who have involvement or knowledge of his abduction and access to state security camps and safe houses; and for the continued submission of reports on the progress of the investigations to the SC. Northern Dispatch

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