“The recent confirmation of Brig. Gen. Año to star rank reminds us of the promotion of Gen. Palparan and many others who had faced serious and credible charges of rights violations,” – National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – The military officer believed to have a key role in the abduction of farmer-activist Jonas Burgos was confirmed yesterday as chief of the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp).
The subcommittee on national defense of the Commission on Appointments (CA) endorsed the confirmation of Brigadier General Eduardo M. Año as head of Isafp despite opposition from Jonas’s mother, Mrs. Edita Burgos.
Jonas, son of the late press freedom fighter Jose Burgos Jr., has been missing since April 28, 2007 after suspected state agents forcibly took him inside a mall in Quezon City. The license plate of the vehicle used in the abduction was later traced to a vehicle under the custody of the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
The CA said that it could not prevent the confirmation of Año after the Department of Justice (DOJ) cleared the military officer of criminal charges in relation to the abduction of Jonas.
In a decision dated September 3, the DOJ exonerated Año from charges of arbitrary detention, murder and obstruction of justice filed by Mrs. Burgos. The DOJ resolution recommended the filing of charges against Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr. and three John Does and one Jane Doe.
“I am saddened that I was not listened to, that the CA did not give weight to our opposition,” Mrs. Burgos told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview. “Our belief is very strong that he [Año] had a key role in the abduction of my son.”
Mrs. Burgos said she wanted to cry when members of the CA approached her after the hearing and told her they sympathize with her. “I appreciate it but I cannot accept their statement that they could not do anything about it,” she said.
Mrs. Burgos said she had hoped that the CA would wait for the decision on the motion for reconsideration they filed on the DOJ resolution.
Lawyer Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and counsel for the Burgos family in the criminal case, said they filed the motion for reconsideration Sept. 23.
In their Motion for Reconsideration, Olalia assailed the DOJ resolution. “The scant and curt findings of the reassigned prosecutor does not only not conform with the facts and the law but also clashes with reason and common sense. How for the light of us can a lowly junior officer (now Major Harry Baliaga) perpetuate such ghastly operation without any one higher ordering, knowing, approving, acquiescing or concealing it for the longest time?”
Olalia said they pointed out the lack of meticulous appreciation of the facts and circumstances establishing the liability of all respondents. “This does not give justice to the seriousness and gravity of the offense that has turned out to be the litmus test for government’s purported vow to punish perpetrators,” he said.
“The recent confirmation of Brig. Gen. Año to star rank reminds us of the promotion of Gen. Palparan and many others who had faced serious and credible charges of rights violations,” Olalia said, referring to retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. who has been charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention for the disappearance of University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan.
“It is an open insult and mockery not only to Jonas and his family but also to the other hundreds of disappeared. We hope the government will not again sow what it reaps even as we shall persist to seek justice though the heavens fall,” Olalia said further.
In April this year, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima declared that the Jonas Burgos case is one of the priority cases of the super body, or the Inter-Agency committee (IAC) on extralegal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons.
Mrs. Burgos said she has not heard anything yet about the progress of the investigation of the superbody. “I do not know what they are doing,” she said. “I have not been notified.”
“Nakapanghihina lang,” Mrs. Burgos said. “But this is also spurring us to continue even more.”
In a text message, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights watchdog Karapatan denounced the CA’s confirmation of Año. Palabay said it is a “glaring example on how the Aquino administration coddles, glorifies and exonerates rabid human rights violators and Arroyo military generals like Gen. Año.”
“Despite the detailed and concrete evidence presented by Jonas Burgos’s mother, Edita, the CA, with the full blessing of Malacañang and ably supported by the Department of Justice, has trampled on the rights of Jonas and his family all over again by turning a blind eye on the responsibility of Año in the military cover-up on Jonas case and in his disappearance,” Palabay said.
Palabay added that Año’s promotion is “an endorsement of the mercenary, inhuman and detestable military tradition of killing, abducting, and transgressing on the rights of the Filipino people.”
For Mrs. Burgos, the search goes on. “I will do everything to find Jonas.”