“This is another effort to distract us from searching for James and seeking justice.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The brother of missing Cordilleran activist James Balao expressed disappointment with the reported Supreme Court decision giving the Philippine National Police (PNP) six months to reinvestigate the eight-year-old case, following the angle that the victim was disappeared by his own colleagues.
James Balao, a founding member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), was in Tomay, La Trinidad, Benguet on Sept. 17, 2008, when he was abducted and since disappeared. Witnesses said he was seized by five men who handcuffed him and forced him into a waiting car. The abductors shouted he was a “drug pusher” and they were taking him to the police headquarters in Camp Dangwa.
“They (police) should be the ones investigated, because they are the suspect, given the evidence submitted by the family and the CPA,” said Winston, James’ younger brother.
News reports said the Supreme Court overturned a decision by a Benguet Regional Trial Court (RTC) to archive the case, and instead ordered the PNP to probe two persons of interest, “Uncle John” and “Rene” who were allegedly James’ house mates.
The Balao family and the CPA have yet to get a copy of the SC decision, as of writing.
“It’s the same old story, like a .gif on loop,” Winston said to Bulatlat in a text message. “The PNP did not really investigate. What they wanted was for us to give them information, to have ourselves investigated. Then they make it appear that we were not cooperative,” he said.
“Kung sa akin lang, wala talaga silang ginagawa (For me, the police are not really doing anything),” Winston said.
Meanwhile, the CPA decried the angle that the group abducted its own founding leader, saying the PNP and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) are “playing up” the story “to wash their hands off their accountability on James’ enforced disappearance.”
“We are the victims here and the blame should not be placed on us,” said the CPA in a press statement. “This is another effort to distract us from searching for James and seeking justice,” said the group.
“For the record, the investigations conducted by the PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been found to be inefficient and superficial,” said Windel Bolinget, CPA chairperson. It was through the effort of the group, along with the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, that they found out two weeks later where and how James was abducted, and the description of the perpetrators, he added.
“We went from camp to camp, station to station that we could reach in our efforts to find him, making sure no stone is left unturned. We attended court hearings, supported witnesses to testify in court and investigations,” the CPA said.
The Balao family filed their petition for a writ of amparo in 2008. In a historic decision, the Benguet RTC Branch 63 granted the petition in January 2009, and asked the respondents, including then President Gloria Arroyo to disclose where James was being detained. The court, however, did not order the inspection of military camps and facilities, as included in the petition.
In December 2011, the SC overturned the writ of amparo, claiming lack of substantial evidence. It however, ordered the PNP and the AFP to continue the investigation, and for the Benguet RTC to monitor the case.
‘Oplan Bantay Laya’
The group Families of the Disappeared for Justice (Desaparecidos) had long blamed enforced disappearances on state security forces, who, they said, use state resources and facilities to abduct, torture, kill and disappear perceived “enemies of the state.”
The human rights group Karapatan had reported 206 victims of enforced disappearance from 2001 to June 2010, during the regime of President Gloria Arroyo. The group attributed the sharp rise in cases of extrajudicial killings and disappearances to the implementation of Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2.
Many of the victims are like James, mostly officials and members of progressive groups, community leaders and activists, although some are just relatives of activists who were abducted along with, or in place of their kin. Also among the disappeared are several peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Human rights groups had assailed the impunity in killings and disappearances, whose perpetrators remain unpunished, and which had continued in the six years under President Aquino. Under Aquino, Karapatan documented 28 victims of disappearances from June 2010 to September 2015.