Campaign to surface missing activist goes on after his 1,000th day of disappearance

By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat.com

BAGUIO CITY – “Mr. President, James (Balao) is my uncle and I miss him so much. Please help!” The above words were written by Sarah Balao-Strugar on a postcard, which was among the thousand postcards, mailed to President Benigno S. Aquino III.

His uncle, James M. Balao was allegedly abducted by armed members of the Philippine National Police in Benguet on September 17, 2008.

On the 1,000th day of Balao’s disappearance, 8,000 postcards were simultaneously mailed in various post offices worldwide, all sent to Aquino. In various parts of the Philippines, 1,000 cards were mailed while 7,000 postcards were mailed in various countries by supporters of the Surface James Balao campaign. “As Commander-in-Chief, you have the mandate to give orders for the immediate surfacing of James, to hold thorough investigation and prosecute his abductors,” the postcards stated.

“I hope that through these thousands postcards addressed to Pres. Aquino, he would order for the fast dispensation of justice on my brother’s enforced disappearance,” Jhonie Balao-Strugar, the youngest sister of James and mother of Sarah, said in an interview.

She explained that they have done everything they could to search James, including the filing of appropriate legal case, like the Writ of Amparo which was granted by a Benguet’s Regional Trial Court.
“We have not stopped searching for him,” she added in an interview.

International support

The disappearance of Balao was also brought to international attention, including that of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), of which Balao co-founded in the 80s.

In Germany, the Monday Demonstration Group (MDG) said that the postcards are on their way now to Pres. Aquino. “Others will follow soon,” added their statement.

Via the internet, cards are also being facilitated by MDG to be sent to Pres. Aquino on time and strengthen their call to surface James.

“Our protests go on until Balao is surfaced and the impunity is stopped,” read the statement of MGB, which launched the campaign to surface Balao in Germany for almost three years now.

Aside from Germany, postcards were also mailed in Hongkong, Geneva, and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, human rights groups urged Pres. Aquino to adopt concrete actions to surface Balao.

Jude Baggo, secretary-general of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, called Aquino to take concrete measures to end enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and other forms of human rights violations.

“The sending of postcards is not only a move to pressure the new administration. It is in fact a reminder that he needs to show his honest concern on the human rights issues and that he upholds human rights instruments by making a difference with his predecessor,” Baggo said.

In a separate statement, Hustisya, the organization of the families of victims of extrajudicial killings,said: “James parents, Arthur and Jane, who were alive when the former was forcefully abducted on September 17, 2008 already passed away last year without seeing their son. It is high time that this administration must do concrete actions to surface James.”

Uphold writ of amparo

A group of progressive lawyers in this city urged the Supreme Court to uphold the spirit of the Writ of Amparo to locate Balao by giving immediate attention. The resolution on the said writ issued by a Regional Trial Court in Benguet was stalled after government lawyers filed an appeal.

“It is very disappointing (referring to the writ). The Supreme Court should act on its (writ) realization towards justice,” Balao-Strugar said.

For more than two years, the Supreme Court has not acted on the said appeal.

The Balao family and CPA called on the high court to reverse the local court’s denial of their request for interim orders to inspect military safe houses, production of evidence, and protection of witnesses.

Lawyer Manja Bayang said that the Supreme Court must uphold the spirit of the rule (Writ of Amparo) that they (SC) themselves promulgated.

“They (SC) must decide the writ of Amparo on the disappearance of Balao. This should be treated, like any writ of Amparo cases, as an emergency case that needs immediate attention and resolution. Otherwise, the rule (Writ of Amparo) is futile,” added Bayang, the ad-hoc chairperson of the Baguio National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL), an organization of progressive lawyers.

But as Balao remains missing up to this day, his family, friends and supporters said they will not stop searching until he would be surfaced. And they are not doing the search alone.

“We all hope that James will surface…….Don’t give up the hope for an end to enforced disappearance…… What happened to him [Balao] is horrible,” said Tessa Van Hoaren of The Netherlands in a letter to the Balao family. ()

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