MANILA — A local court issued a warrant of arrest against an Army major implicated in the abduction of missing activist Jonas Burgos, son of the late press freedom icon Jose Burgos Jr.
Judge Alfonso Ruiz II of the Branch 216 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court ordered the arrest of Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. for kidnapping. Baliaga was positively identified in court by one of the witnesses as one of those who abducted Jonas on April 28, 2007 inside a mall in Quezon City.
“This is good news,” Mrs. Edita Burgos, mother of Jonas, told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview. Mrs. Burgos said she hopes that the authorities will arrest Baliaga immediately and send him to the proper detention facility.
Mrs. Burgos added, “I just hope the developments will continue.”
Pending before the Department of Justice (DOJ) is a motion for reconsideration Mrs. Burgos filed on the DOJ’s resolution absolving higher military officers implicated in the case. Among those dropped from the charge list are newly-promoted Brigadier Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of staff of the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) and Lt. Col. Melquiades Felicano, then commanding officer of the division’s 56th Infantry Battalion.
“I hope the DOJ will reconsider its decision. They should not be part of the cover-up,” she said.
Mrs. Burgos reiterated her appeal to Baliaga, “Come out in the open and tell the truth. Stop protecting your officers.” Mrs. Burgos said she finds it unbelievable that the action of Baliaga was not sanctioned by the higher-ups in the military.
Since Jonas went missing, the family sought the help of the courts and complained of a cover-up by the military and police.
The family is also waiting for the decision of the Supreme Court on their urgent ex-parte motion calling for the reinvestigation of the case. Mrs. Burgos submitted to the high court pieces of new evidence, including alleged official documents from the Philippine Army.
“This waiting can be so draining,” Mrs. Burgos said. “But even if it takes long, we won’t give up.”
In a statement, Desaparecidos, an organization of families of victims of enforced disappearances, slammed the recommended bail of P40,000 ($930) for Baliaga.
“We expected Branch 216 of Quezon City to understand the gravity of this case,” Lorena Santos, Desaparecidos secretary general, said. “By giving Maj. Baliaga a way to escape prosecution, he would most likely follow the likes of Palparan or Reyes,” she added, referring to retired General Jovito Palparan Jr., main suspect in the kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges in relation to the disappearance of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan and former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, suspect in the murder of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega. Both have standing warrants of arrest but have remained fugitives.
“The court should not let the Burgos case be watered down to a mere case of a common crime. This is a state-perpetrated crime of probable murder aside from arbitrary arrest. Thus, perpetrators should be punished with the full force of the law,” Santos said.
The group said that the Burgos case is “not on the track to justice.” “First, the brains behind the abduction of Jonas Burgos was exonerated and Gen. Eduardo Año was even confirmed as chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Now, while Maj. Harry Baliaga has a standing warrant of arrest against him, he can still bail himself out of prison for only P40,000 ($930),” Santos said.
“May we remind BS [Benigno Simeon] “Noynoy” Aquino that the world is watching at how the Burgos case and other cases of enforced disappearances in the Philippines would develop. If the BS Aquino government will continue to let perpetrators of enforced disappearances go free, then he does not deserve to be in the presidential office,” Santos said. (bulatlat.com)
Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr. (bulatlat.com file photo)