Jonas Burgos

A recently released photo of Jonas Burgos taken shortly after he was abducted by the Philippine military in April 2007.

As a survivor of abduction by the Philippine military in 2009, my heart went out to the Burgos family after I heard the favorable news of the Philippine Court of Appeals ruling last week on the case of Jonas Burgos.  After years of presenting the case before the Philippine Courts, the Court of Appeals has finally recognized that the Armed Forces of the Philippines was responsible for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos.

Jonas Burgos was an activist-agriculturalist who was abducted in broad daylight by the Philippine military on April 28, 2007 while he was having lunch in the Ever Gotesco Mall on Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.

The recently released photo of Jonas in detention brought tears to my eyes—to see him in that condition looking very tired and disoriented.  I saw the pain in his expression.  The stark white concrete wall behind him framed his melancholy face.

I understand what he has been through and can only imagine what he endured all these years.   Mrs. Edita Burgos—mother of Jonas—and her family’s agony over the years is a form of continuing torture.   When a loved one remains missing, it is torture for the families who continue looking for them and hoping they will be surfaced.

With perseverance and courage, Mrs. Edita Burgos and her family relentlessly pursued the case before the Philippine Courts and other human rights investigative bodies.  They enlisted the help of various human rights organizations like Karapatan, Desaparecidos, and other grassroots people’s organizations in the Philippines.  After many years of appeal to the Supreme Court, many rallies and protests that called for Jonas Burgos to be surfaced, the Philippine Court finally declared what the victims and families have known all along—that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is guilty of committing enforced disappearances.

I question the will of President Benigno Aquino III, as Commander in Chief, to push the Armed Forces to comply with the Court’s orders to surface Jonas and reveal all evidence related to his abduction.  Mrs. Burgos has made numerous direct appeals to President Aquino III with no result.

The Burgos family filed a petition for the writ of habeas corpus after Jonas disappeared in 2007.  The license plate number of the vehicle used during the abduction of Jonas was traced to an impounded vehicle inside the camp of the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Bulacan, a province north of Metro Manila.

The Court of Appeals initially rejected the appeal in 2008.  It was only in 2011, four years since Jonas disappeared that the Supreme Court directed the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the case.  The CHR then presented its findings to the Supreme Court, finding that the Philippine military—including Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr.—was responsible for the abduction of Jonas Burgos.  A witness positively identified Maj. Baliaga over the abduction of Jonas Burgos at a restaurant in the Ever Gotesco Mall.  The recent Court of Appeals Special 7th Division ruling also declared Army Maj. Harry Baliaga one of those responsible for the crime.

New pieces of evidence have also recently surfaced that Mrs. Edita Burgos and her family presented to the Supreme Court.  These include a picture of Jonas Burgos days after he was abducted and documentary evidence that would further prove that he was being held by an intelligence unit of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and the 56th Infantry Battalion.

In the website, it shows the photo that surfaced after five years and 338 days since the family has been searching for Jonas Burgos.

If only the Courts and the investigative bodies would have acted more swiftly maybe there would have been a chance that Jonas would have been found.  Any time someone is enforcedly disappeared, time is of utmost importance.  The more time passes, the obstacles to finding them become harder to overcome.

The Courts did not help because justice delayed is justice denied.  It took nearly six years before the Courts made their ruling and ordered the AFP to release Jonas Burgos.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the AFP colluded to delay, obstruct and mislead the investigations.  Despite the evidence, the AFP continues to deny responsibility for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos and other desaparecidos (the disappeared).  The PNP, ordered by the Courts to investigate the Jonas Burgos case, continues to drag its feet and fails to conduct an exhaustive and meaningful investigation. Just recently the PNP Chief, Director General Alan Purisima, summarily dismissed both the decision of the appellate court and the new evidence filed by the Burgos family.

Despite promises to improve the human rights situation in the country, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III also has failed to genuinely investigate the disappearance of Jonas Burgos and other desaparecidos.   In December 2012, he even appointed Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año as the new chief of the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).  Año is a military officer that is implicated in gross human rights violations, including involvement in the abduction of Jonas Burgos.

Under the Aquino III administration, Army Maj. General Jovito Palparan has not been arrested and is still a free man in hiding.  Palparan has been on the run since the Philippine Department of Justice issued a resolution implicating him and three of his men in the abduction of two University students, Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, in 2006.

Is this the way that President Aquino responds to the appeals of victims and family members of human rights violations?  Is this the “righteous road” that he was talking about when he first came into the presidency?

President Aquino III should prosecute those responsible for the abduction of Jonas Burgos all the way up the chain of command, instead of promoting them to higher office.  President Aquino III should demand the Armed Forces of the Philippines to surface Jonas.

For those of us living in the United States, it is also worth noting that the United States government continues to provide military aid and support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

According to a Reuters article dated May 3, 2012, the United States tripled military aid to the Philippines in 2012.  According to the same source, information from the U.S. Embassy in Manila showed that since 2002, the Philippines received nearly $500 million in military aid from the U.S.  This does not include other U.S. foreign military funding and military equipment provided by the U.S. to the Philippines.  This includes the transfer of 20 reconditioned helicopters, a Cyclone-class ship, and a Hamilton-class cutter.

In 2008, through the people’s lobbying efforts in Congress, Senator Barbara Boxer successfully pushed for the restriction of $3 million of military aid to the Philippines because of the political killings and human rights violations.  However, the Philippine government continues to petition for the removal of these conditions because it says that the Aquino government has shown that it has made efforts to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The truth is that the Armed Forces of the Philippines under the government of President Benigno Aquino III continues to commit human rights violations.  President Aquino III’s administration has implemented Oplan Bayanihan, a counter-insurgency program modeled after the U.S.’s own counter-insurgency guide of 2009, that continues the same policy of human rights violations as its predecessor, Oplan Bantay-Laya.  Different name, but same deadly policy targeting communities, progressive organizations, and political activists.

U.S. military aid, training, and support to the Philippines must end.  If the U.S. government continues to fund a Philippine military that continues to commit grave human rights abuses, then it is in fact supporting this policy of political killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.

Many victims, their families, and witnesses have testified at the risk of their lives to shed light on the heinous human rights violations committed by the Philippine military with the knowledge of the Philippine government.  The victims and families of the disappeared have fought for their voices to be heard.

There is still much more that needs to be done.  The fact remains that Jonas Burgos and many other desaparecidos remain missing.

I thank Mrs. Burgos, her family, and the families of the desaparecidos for their courage and perseverance.  Mrs. Burgos I have not forgotten that you, along with the other nanays (mothers) of Desaparecidos were the ones to give me your loving support and protection when I had to testify about my ordeal.   You taught me a lot with your courage, strength, and faith.  I will continue to fight for Jonas until he is found and until the perpetrators are brought to justice.  I stand with you in the pursuit of truth and justice for all desaparecidos.

It makes my heart heavy and my eyes sore to think about how many desaparecidos still suffer under the darkness of captivity.  I hope that others will join in the campaign to continue to fight for justice.  Please don’t let Mrs. Burgos pleas for justice be in vain.  Public pressure and opinion is very important in the campaign for justice.  How many more testimonies of victims do we have to hear before we take action?  It is my hope that there will not be more news of political killings, abductions, or torture.  We can each do our part to spread the word, take action, and demand an end to human rights violations.

– Melissa Roxas

Surface Jonas Burgos and all desaparecidos!
Justice for Jonas Burgos and all victims of human rights violations!
Prosecute those responsible for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos!
Stop U.S. Military Aid to the Philippines!