Court acquits Army officer on Jonas Burgos case

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) acquitted an army officer of arbitrarily detaining disappeared activist Jonas Burgos Thursday, October 12, saying the prosecution failed to prove he participated in the actual abduction.

Philippine Army Major Harry Ballaga Jr. was cleared of the charge after QC RTC Branch Judge Alfonso Ruiz II found the testimonies of at least three Commission on Human Rights (CHR) witnesses lacking in probative value.

“The first duty of the prosecution is to identify the accused as malefactor of the alleged crime…The prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identify of Harry Ballaga Jr. as the person who abducted and arbitrarily detained Jonas Burgos,” part of the Court’s promulgation said.

“This kind (CHR’s) of testimony is hearsay in nature and, the Court is constrained to say, has little to no probative value enough to sustain the accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” it added.

Burgos, a farmers’ rights and welfare activist and son of Philippine press freedom and democracy icons Jose and Editha, was abducted on April 28, 2007 while having lunch at a restaurant inside the Ever Gotesco Mall along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Both Ballaga and Burgos’ mother Editha calmly listened to the 15-minute promulgation.

Ballaga approached Mrs. Burgos after the reading of the judgement and offered his hand.  Mrs. Burgos graciously took it and nodded in acknowledgement of Ballaga’s gesture.

“We respect the decision of the Court. But this is just a delay. We continue the search; we continue the fight. And maybe this is God’s way of walking the crooked lines so that we can find him [Jonas],” Mrs. Burgos said.

“Even as we disagree with the Judge, we also know the institutions are imperfect because they are made up of imperfect people. And the Lord said, ‘Revenge is mine. I will repay.’ So they will have a bigger thing to contend with,” she added.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers, private prosecutors to the case, said their difficulty was the disappearance of eyewitnesses that could have made their case stronger.

“We ask the eyewitnesses to come forward. Because after the Court of Appeals hearings, they could not be found for reasons we could not divine, except they were probably harassed, threatened or for any other reason that did not work for [the quest for] justice for Jonas,” NUPL’s Atty Edre Olalia said.

“It’s not the end. There are still people out there who should be made accountable, including General [Armed Forces Chief of Staff Eduardo] Año, General [National Security Adviser Hermogenes] Esperon and a lot of other military officers,” Olalia said.

“I still believe that I will find Jonas,” Mrs. Burgos added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)