CHR asks SC to hold AFP accountable in Burgos case
By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) Updated March 19, 2011 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged the Supreme Court (SC) to grant the petition seeking to hold the military accountable for the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos nearly four years ago.
In a 49-page report following its investigation as ordered by the SC last year, the CHR recommended the issuance of a writ of amparo ordering the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to produce the body of Burgos before the court.
Burgos, son of the late press freedom fighter Joe Burgos, went missing on April 28, 2007 after several gunmen dragged him to a waiting Toyota Revo van whose license plates were traced to another vehicle earlier impounded by the military in Bulacan.
“Based on the facts developed by evidence obtained in this case, the CHR finds that the enforced disappearance of Jonas Joseph Burgos had transpired, and that his constitutional rights to life, liberty and security were violated by the government,” the CHR said in the report submitted to the SC last Tuesday.
The CHR report, signed by Commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag, has identified Army 1Lt. Harry Baliaga Jr. as among the supposed gunmen that snatched Burgos at a restaurant inside the Ever Gotesco Mall on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.
Baliaga belonged to the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan and 7th Infantry Division at Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija.
The CHR urged the SC to order the filing of charges of kidnapping/enforced disappearance and/or arbitrary detention against Baliaga as principal by direct participation in the abduction of Burgos.
The CHR based its findings on testimonies of two eyewitnesses – Jeffrey Cabintoy and Elsa Agasang – who positively identified Baliaga through the yearbook of the Philippine Military Academy and other group photos.
The two witnesses were at the restaurant at the time Burgos was snatched.
The CHR recommended the two witnesses to be placed under the government’s Witness Protection Program.
The CHR told the High Court that it could not identify the other suspects, and asked that Gen. Gilberto Roa of the Judge Advocate General Office and personnel of the AFP deputy chief of staff be made to cooperate and provide documents needed for the investigation.
“Most if not all the actual abductors would have been identified had it not been for what is otherwise called as evidentiary difficulties shamelessly put up by some police and military elites. The deliberate refusal of Gen. Roa to provide the CHR with the requested documents does not only defy the Supreme Court directive but ipso facto created the disputable presumption that AFP personnel were responsible for the abduction,” the CHR stressed.
The CHR also contested the initial findings of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) based on testimonies of three witnesses – Emerito Lipio, Marlon Manuel and Meliza Concepcion Reyes – who all claimed the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels snatched Burgos.
The CHR claimed the testimonies of the three had been fabricated.
The CHR said the three police witnesses should be charged with obstruction of justice for refusing to participate in the probe.
The CHR submitted the report in compliance with an order of the SC last year for the commission to conduct another probe into the disappearance of Burgos.
The SC said the CHR probe would be necessary to resolve a petition filed by Burgos’ mother Edita seeking reversal of the July 17, 2008 ruling of the Court of Appeals clearing the military in the alleged abduction.
The SC pointed out some lapses in the investigation conducted by the CIDG, so “a more meaningful investigation” is needed.
“Considering the findings of the CA and our review of the records of the present case, we conclude that the PNP and the AFP have so far failed to conduct an exhaustive and meaningful investigation into the disappearance of Jonas Burgos; and to exercise the extraordinary diligence (in the performance of their duties) that the Rule on the writ of amparo requires,” the SC said.
In its July 17, 2008 decision, the CA held that the evidence presented by Mrs. Burgos failed to establish her claim that the military was involved in her son’s disappearance.
The CA said Mrs. Burgos failed to show how license plate TAB 184, which was supposedly attached to a 1991 Isuzu XLT vehicle impounded at the 56th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Bulacan, came to be attached to the Toyota Revo that was used by Burgos’ abductors.
But the CA directed the PNP to continue with its investigation of the Burgos disappearance and file charges before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against all those who may be found responsible.
The CA also enjoined then AFP chief Alexander Yano to conduct a thorough investigation on the involvement of military personnel in the disappearance of Burgos and explain why the license plate of an impounded vehicle in military custody ended up on another vehicle that was used in the abduction.
Among the significant lapses that the police committed, according to the Court, was its failure to identify the artist sketches of two of the five abductors of Burgos based on their interview of eyewitnesses.
“No search and certification were ever made on whether these persons were AFP personnel or in other branches of the service, such as the Philippine Air Force… Notably, the PNP-CIDG, as the lead investigating agency in the present case, did not appear to have lifted a finger to pursue these aspects of the case,” the SC said.
The SC added the lapse was apparently based on the information provided to Mrs. Burgos by Provincial Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco of the DOJ who identified the persons who were possibly involved in the abduction, namely Army T/Sgt. Jason Roxas, Air Force Cpl. Maria Joana Francisco, Air Force M/Sgt. Aron Arroyo, and a certain T.L., all reportedly assigned with Military Intelligence Group 15 of the AFP’s Intelligence Service.
The CHR also requested the SC to summon Velasco in connection with his claims.
In her petition for review, Mrs. Burgos asked the SC to hold the AFP and PNP accountable under the doctrine of command responsibility, having presumed to know that the enforced disappearance was caused by their subordinates and yet failed to take corrective action.
Mrs. Burgos said her evidence consists of the admitted fact that plate no. TAB 194 was identified by witness Larry Marquez, security guard of Ever Gotesco, on the vehicle used in the abduction of her son. The license plate was traced to a vehicle that was supposedly in the custody of the 5th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan.
Mrs. Burgos insisted that her son’s abduction was related to the arrest of Lt. Dick Abletes of the 56th IB on March 23, 2007 who was caught passing information to alleged NPA rebels in Bulacan.
Mrs. Burgos said the military had the resources, intelligence information and the resolve to mount the abduction.
Mrs. Burgos has named then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, then AFP chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, former army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, Maj. Gen. Juanito Gomez, commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division that has jurisdiction over the 56th IB; Lt. Cols. Noel Clement and Melquiades Feliciano, former 56th IB commanders; and then Police Director General Oscar Calderon as respondents.
The SC agreed with the CA in dropping Mrs. Arroyo as respondent in the case.