Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:20:00 03/22/2011
MANILA, Philippines—An Army lieutenant has been implicated in the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos but bigger and more powerful personalities are likely involved, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Loretta Rosales said Monday.
Rosales told the Inquirer in an interview that she had reason to believe that Burgos’ disappearance was not a simple kidnapping committee done by some members of the military but was part of the counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo administration.
“Hence, assignment of criminal responsibility must not be confined to the few soldiers who purportedly executed the crime. If ever, they were the mere henchmen of the hierarchy of fear that held sway in the past,” Rosales said in a statement, which she read during the interview.
She said the findings of the CHR “can only lead to the conclusion that personalities bigger and more powerful than Baliaga were responsible for Jonas Burgos’ disappearance.”
Not very cooperative
Rosales was referring to Lt. Harry Baliaga of the Philippine Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion based in Bulacan who was named in the CHR report on the Burgos disappearance that was submitted to the Supreme Court last week.
Jonas, son of the late press freedom icon Jose Burgos Jr., was reportedly snatched by armed men from a Quezon City mall on April 28, 2007. He has not been heard from since. He is one of hundreds of activists killed or disappeared during the Arroyo administration.
Rosales lamented that the military was not very cooperative with the CHR when the latter was conducting its probe. According to her, this attitude of the military raised suspicions of its involvement.
But she expressed optimism that with the new administration and a new leadership in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, there was a better chance of solving Burgos’ disappearance.
According to her, the military got in touch with her after the CHR report came out and offered assistance and cooperation in further investigating the case.
In its own press briefing Monday, the AFP said it would make Baliaga available for further investigation.
“I have already requested that he (Baliaga) report for purposes of making himself available for investigation … we will make everybody available for all of these,” Col. Domingo Tutaan, head of the AFP Human Rights Office, said in a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo Monday.
Promoted to major
Tutaan said Baliaga had since been promoted to the rank of major but did not say where the mid-level officer was now assigned.
Tutaan said he met with Rosales Monday morning to assure her of the AFP’s cooperation.
Tutaan was tasked by AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. to head a technical working group to respond to the CHR’s findings and submit a report by March 23.
AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr. said the military was “still stumped” by the Burgos case.
“We have no idea of his whereabouts. We’ve been trying to look for him since Day One.
“It’s still possible (to look for him) that’s why we’re coordinating with the CHR,” Tutaan said.
Meanwhile, the group Pamilya ng Desaparecidos para sa Katarungan, or Desaparecidos, urged Congress to pass an anti-enforced disappearance bill that would provide stiffer penalties for such abuse of authority.