Edith Burgos asks Robredo to include disappeared in electoral agenda

It’s been 15 years since Jonas was abducted

The mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos appealed to Vice President Leni Robredo to be the voice of the forcibly disappeared who are the “poorest among the poor because they are voiceless.”

On the 15th anniversary of the abduction of Jonas today, Mrs. Edita Burgos published an open letter asking the presidential candidate to put the issue of the forcibly disappeared in her electoral agenda.

“[A]nd most of all knowing that above all you are a caring and loving mother to your children, I take courage in asking you to please be the voice of the voiceless. The victims of enforced disappearance were taken away from the protection of the law, their whereabouts are kept unknown to their families,” Mrs. Burgos wrote.

 “At this critical point of history in our country, the Philippines, I believe that each Filipino parent has that God-given opportunity to act concretely to secure a better future for their children,” Mrs. Burgos added.

Mrs. Burgos said she chose to write to Robredo based on what she has heard about the Vice President’s track record, her values from her speeches and interviews and seeing how she is drawn to the least served people in the country.

Mrs. Burgos said that she is confident Robredo will open her mother’s heart to a fellow mother and all relatives of victims of enforced disappearance, giving her confidence to ask the candidate to put the issue of enforced disappearance and their search for justice.

A video commemorating the 15th anniversary of Jonas Burgos’ abduction.

Jonas, a peasant rights activist, was abducted while having lunch at a Quezon City mall on April 28, 2007 his family believes were Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel under the command of Gen. Jovito Palparan.

The Burgoses filed arbitrary detention charges against then Philippine Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr. but was acquitted by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 216 in October 2017.

Baliaga was an officer assigned to the 5th Infantry Battalion based in Norzagaray, Bulacan were the vehicle used in Jonas’ abduction was reported to have been seen.

The Court said testimonies of the witnesses were “hearsay.”

Mrs. Burgos has repeatedly said she is confident they will still find Jonas.

In this interview immediately after the promulgation of the case, Burgos’ prosecuting attorney Edre Olalia said the setback is not end of their quest for justice.

“We commemorate his 15th anniversary of abduction with the same vigor and determination. Yet, though with sadness, in the spirit of joining our will to God’s will and accepting reality as it is, we look at this year’s commemoration in the context of the present socio-political situation in our country and endeavor to open new doors,” Mrs. Burgos wrote to Robredo.

“This perspective has given us hope,” she added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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)