De Lima sees closure in Burgos case
MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima Sunday expressed optimism the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) report finding some military officers liable in the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos may lead to closure in the controversial case.
“I’m glad the case is now on its way to closure as our country and the whole world have been waiting for,” De Lima said in a text message.
She said the Department of Justice (DoJ) will review the findings of the CHR “with the end in view of prosecuting those responsible” for Burgos’ abduction in 2007.
Edita Burgos, Jonas’ mother, also hailed the report as a “glimmer of hope” in the family’s four-year search for answers to Jonas’ disappearance, which saw her checking unknown graves in remote provinces.
Based on testimonies of witnesses, the CHR’s 49-page report submitted to the Supreme Court last week identified Lt. Harry Baliaga as one of those responsible for Jonas’ abduction.
Jonas, an agriculturist and peasant organizer, was snatched by armed men from the Ever-Gotesco mall in Quezon City on April 28, 2007. He has not been seen since.
Most important case
De Lima said the abduction of Jonas, son of the late anti-Marcos publisher and freedom fighter Jose “Joe” Burgos, was “one of the most important cases” she handled when she was CHR chair.
Shortly after President Benigno Aquino III gave her the justice portfolio, De Lima said the Supreme Court remanded the investigation of the Burgos case to the CHR.
De Lima said she was inclined to form a special panel of state prosecutors to lead in the possible filing of cases against certain military officers as recommended by the CHR.
She said she had yet to read the CHR report.
Writ of amparo too
Aside from the filing of proper criminal charges, the CHR had recommended the issuance of a writ of amparo to compel the military to present Burgos in court.
Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. has ordered the creation of a technical panel to study the CHR report.
Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta, AFP spokesperson, said Oban directed the panel to submit its findings on March 23.
Mabanta said Oban directed Col. Domingo Tutaan, chief of the AFP Human Rights Office, to closely coordinate with the CHR and “dig deeper” into the abduction of Burgos.
“Certainly, we want to know the truth behind these allegations,” he said.
The Burgos family has long accused the AFP of being behind Jonas’ abduction but the military has denied it.
Edita Burgos, in a statement, said the CHR report was “bittersweet vindication after years of dead ends and uncertainty.”
She said their quest to learn Jonas’ whereabouts continued and they would only end it when Jonas was returned to them.
“While we seem to have won this battle, the real measure of success is the recovery of my son. We shall continue the fight until Jonas is returned to us, alive and well, and justice is served,” Edita said.
The Burgos family appealed to President Aquino to order the AFP to release documents on her son’s case.
Edita said the Army officer identified in the CHR report as one of Jonas’ abductors could not have done the deed without orders from his superiors.
“As Commander in Chief, it is time to show the military that you will never condone any wrongdoing. Mr. President, the military must be the first to follow the tuwid na daan (the straight path, Mr. Aquino’s campaign slogan). The military should be ordered to release the documents on the abduction of Jonas. Please Mr. President, allow my son to return to his family,” Edita pleaded.
Hold Arroyo accountable
Also reacting to the CHR report, the left-wing umbrella group Bayan said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should also be held accountable for Jonas’ disappearance.
“That there was a rise in the killings and disappearances of activists during the Arroyo years indicates that her administration tolerated the military’s deadly operations against them,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said. This gave rise to a culture of impunity, he added.