Lawyers hail CA ruling on abducted activist’s case

Mar. 30, 2013

“The court’s ruling may not ease the pain and sufferings of the relatives of the still missing Jonas Burgos, but, it was a long coming indictment of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines).” – Atty. Carlos Zarate, second nominee of Bayan Muna Party

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Six years after the filing of habeas corpus and amparo petitions, it was only this month when the case of Jonas Burgos was handed down with a decision.  Despite the belated ruling, lawyers have welcomed it.

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals (CA) announced its March 18 decision saying the Philippine Army, particularly former Major Harry Baliaga Jr. of the 56th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan, was responsible for the enforced disappearance of Burgos.  It also held the Philippine National Police accountable for its failure to conduct an exhaustive investigation.

“The court’s ruling may not ease the pain and sufferings of the relatives of the still missing Jonas Burgos, but, it was a long coming indictment of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines),” lawyer Carlos Zarate, second nominee of Bayan Muna Party, told Saturday.

Zarate said that the AFP is the very same institution that “systematically frustrates all efforts to seek justice for Jonas” since his abduction and disappearance.

Burgos, the son of freedom of speech icon Joe Burgos, was a farmer-activist said to be abducted by the military on 28 April 2007 inside the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which served as the Burgos family’s co-counsel in the criminal complaint against Baliaga, among others, also welcomed the CA ruling.

Lawyer Edre Olalia, NUPL secretary general, said it is “highly significant” as it validates the long-standing claim of human rights defenders and some national and international groups that enforced disappearances, as well as extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and tortures, “are systematically perpetrated by the military and State forces.”

Commission on Human Rights Chair Loreta Ann Rosales, quoted in a news report, said that the CA decision was “noteworthy” because “it categorically declares the AFP, as an institution, directly accountable for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos.”  She added, “This conclusion effectively discredits the theory propounded by the Armed Forces that Jonas was the victim of an internal CPP-NPA plot.”

Olalia, in a statement Saturday, owed the legal victory to the determination of Jonas’ mother, Editha Burgos, her family, their counsel and human rights defenders who pursued the case here and abroad and in all available fora.

Another lawyer, Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, also lauded the decision Saturday, saying it only proved that “the military are the perpetrators of human rights violations against activists and those who are critical of the government.”  He also said that it helped in concretizing the findings of UN Rapporteur Philip Alston about the military’s involvement in EJKs and enforced disappearances perpetrated against activists.

However, Colmenares said that it’s not only Baliaga who should be held accountable but all other military officials who were implicated in the Burgos case as well, citing Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año.

Año was the head of the AFP Intelligence Service Group when Burgos was abducted.  Last December, he was promoted to General and was appointed as ISAFP Chief.

“Action must also be brought against those who covered up for the crime from the Judge Advocate General’s Office who refused to divulge the report, the police who refused to investigate, the fiscals who refused to prosecute, and others who did not act in pursuit of justice, ” Colmenares added.

He hoped that the CA ruling will serve as a step forward towards the prosecution of those responsible for the victims of rights abuses and for their families to finally attain justice.

But as these lawyers welcomed the CA decision, they also raised apprehension.

“Even as we take good note of studied opinions that it is tantamount to an indictment of the system itself despite the glimmer of hope and a modicum of justice provided by its belated ruling, we hope that the CA ruling will not be for naught,” Olalia said.

He noted that their petition for habeas corpus was filed in June 2007 while the amparo petition was filed in December 2007.  The writ of amparo, according to Olalia, was designed to be a legal remedy for those whose right to life, liberty and security against extrajudicial killings and disappearances is violated or threatened.

“We fervently pray that this will not be another pyrrhic victory that resurrects false hopes for the crucified lives of the victims’ kin who have long suffered and waited,” Olalia said.

According to rights group Karapatan, since Benigno Aquino III came to power, 14 have become victims of enforced disappearance while during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s nine-year rule, 206 became desaparecidos including UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño.

Colmenares meanwhile, has challenged the AFP to “cooperate with the court and compel Baliaga to face the charge against him.”

However, Zarate did not pin his hopes, “considering that the present PNoy administration is also coddling the very same institution and adopted the very same system that made possible the abduction of Jonas.”

For him, the search for justice for all victims of impunity “must continue through the people’s militant struggle.”  (Marilou Aguire-Tuburan/

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