“[Major Harry] Baliaga is even fortunate. He was given the right to bail, the right to defend himself. These are the same rights they denied to Jonas.” – Mrs. Edita Burgos
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos slammed the Philippine Army for shouldering the bail of suspect Harry Baliaga Jr.
A Quezon City local court ordered the arrest of Baliaga for charges of arbitrary detention in relation to the disappearance of Jonas since April 28, 2007.
In a report, the Philippine Army admitted it provided financial aid to Baliaga for the bail bond, which amounted to P40,000 ($930).
“I cannot explain why would the military do that…unless abduction is part of his [Baliaga] functions,” Mrs. Edita Burgos told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview. “He did what he did in the line of duty. He was really ordered to do it.”
Baliaga has denied abducting Jonas. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has also been consistent in denying that it was behind the enforced disappearance of the peasant-activist.
Mrs. Burgos noted that ordinary citizens who are charged with criminal offenses post bail using their personal money. “Why would the military support him [Baliaga]? Did they use people’s money to bail out someone who committed a crime?” Mrs. Burgos asked. “The AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] should explain to the people who own these funds.”
In the same report, Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes said the Army will also provide legal counsel for Baliaga if he asks for it. Baliaga continues to work as staff of the office of the Army’s Adjutant General, Coballes said.
“He needs to work. There is what we call presumption of innocence. He has the right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty by the court,” Coballes was quoted as saying in the Interaksyon report.
In reaction, Mrs. Burgos told the military, “Are you using people’s money for this? To defend someone who is accused of violating the rights of the people you are supposed to protect?”
Mrs. Burgos added, “Baliaga is even fortunate. He was given the right to bail, the right to defend himself. These are the same rights they denied to Jonas. Jonas should have been given a day in court.”
In a report, Baliaga said he is optimistic that he will be cleared of the charges against him.
Mrs. Burgos said Baliaga should think twice, even thrice. “He is the only one left among those charged. He might be sacrificed by the military.”
In a resolution dated September 3, the Department of Justice held that there is probable cause that Baliaga and three John Does and one Jane Doe committed the crime of arbitrary detention against Jonas. The resolution exonerated two other respondents, Lt. Co. Melquiades Feliciano, former commander of the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) and Col. Eduardo Año of the Intelligence Service Group of the Philippine Army.
“Why would an ordinary soldier do something without the knowledge of his superiors?” Mrs. Burgos said.
Mrs. Burgos said she is only following due process. “They [military] make it appear as if it’s a personal thing. I am God-fearing. I am law-abiding. I was not the one who put an accusing finger to Baliaga. It was the result of the findings of the Court of Appeals,” she said.
Baliaga was identified by two of the witnesses during an investigation by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The CHR then was ordered by the Supreme Court to conduct an independent probe on the case. The SC also ordered the CA to conduct hearings based on the evidence gathered by the CHR.
In its decision in March, the CA held that that the abduction of Jonas is a case of enforced disappearance and declared that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is accountable for the crime.
Meanwhile, human rights alliance Karapatan is not at all surprised at the developments on the Jonas Burgos case.
“It’s a scripted effort to exonerate not only Baliaga but the whole military institution in the disappearance of Jonas,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay told Bulatlat.com in an overseas phone call. Palabay is attending a human rights conference in Bangladesh.
Palabay said the military’s support for Baliaga shows how the military coddles human rights violators.
“We have come to a tipping point,” Palabay said. “The families and human rights defenders do not only feel disgust. It has come to the point of a total distrust of the whole system that breeds human rights violations and impunity.”