Eyewitness identifies Army major as one of Jonas’s abductors

The eyewitness, a busboy at the restaurant where Jonas Burgos was abducted, said he was about to help Jonas when a woman and three men approached him, one after another, to tell him not to intervene. One of them he later identified as Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr, who was then assigned to the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Even after knowing by heart the full details of when and how Joseph Jonas Burgos was abducted on April 28, 2007, Mrs. Edita Burgos, his mother, still listened intently as the story was told by an eyewitness.

“It feels like we are back to where we began. Every time there is a hearing, I am always tense. Every time there is a new witness, I always hope that (she or he) would give concrete testimony and lead us to Jonas’s whereabouts,” Mrs. Burgos told Bulatlat.com.

Jeffrey Cabintoy, 27, according to Mrs. Burgos, described in a hearing before the Court of Appeals on September 1 how Jonas’s abductors took him from Ever Gotesco Mall in Commonwealth, Quezon City more than four years ago. Cabintoy, a busboy in the restaurant at that time, identified Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr, who was then assigned to the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as one of the people who took Jonas.

Joseph Jonas Burgos, son of press freedom icon Jose Burgos Jr., was abducted on April 28, 2007 inside a mall in Quezon City. His family, friends and comrades continue to search for him to this day.

Cabintoy, who referred to Jonas as “customer” and “the one who was eating,” said Jonas arrived at the restaurant at around lunch time. After a while, he noticed four men talking to the customer.

Mrs. Burgos said she felt uneasy after hearing Cabintoy describe what Jonas said at that time when his abductors approached him: “Uy, oh! May nanggugulo dito. Paalisin niyo. (Hey there are troublemakers here. Please ask them to leave.) ” when his abductors approached him. “All of a sudden, I felt his presence,” Burgos said, “Those could have been his words. When you know a person by heart, you know how he speaks.”

Cabintoy said he moved to help the customer but a woman pulled him to a corner and warned him not to intervene. Two more men then approached Cabintoy. He referred to the first man as “Negro,” pertaining to the color of his skin. Negro, said Cabintoy, introduced himself as a police officer, who claimed they were going to arrest Jonas for “dealing in drugs.”

One of Jonas’s abductors, whom Cabintoy called as “the man who is texting” and was later on identified as military officer Baliaga, approached him next. Again, he was told not to intervene. His restaurant supervisor, Elsa Algasa, then approached and asked Cabintoy to do some errands. The next thing he knew, Cabintoy said, he saw the customer, Jonas, being dragged away from the restaurant with five men carrying him by his arms and legs while he was shouting, “I am not a criminal. I am an activist.”

“No one bothered to help (Jonas) because the men claimed that they were police officers,” he said.

Mrs. Burgos described Cabintoy as a “stable” and “credible” witness for the case.

More than 300 pictures

On May 1, 2007, members of the police arrived at the restaurant where Cabintoy and Algasa were working, and asked them to describe Jonas’s abductors. At that time, Cabintoy said, he was not able to help the police in doing a cartographic sketch of the second man who approached him, the man he referred to as texting, because he had so many errands to do, given that he is the only busboy at the restaurant.

Mrs. Burgos, in May 2007, filed a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Jonas’s enforced disappearance. She then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and writ of amparo with the Supreme Court on August and December of that year, respectively. The petition for habeas corpus, however, was dismissed by the Court of Appeals on July 17, 2008, stating that Mrs. Burgos failed to show that the military was behind the abduction. But it partially granted the petition for writ of amparo and directed the military and police to provide all the documents that Mrs. Burgos needed.

In August 2008, Mrs. Burgos appealed the Appellate Court’s decision dismissing the petition for a writ of habeas corpus before the Supreme Court. After almost a year later, the High Court ordered the CHR to reinvestigate Jonas’s enforced disappearance because of “serious lapses” during the investigation by authorities. On March 15 this year, almost four years since Jonas disappeared, the CHR submitted its report and recommendations to the Supreme Court.

It was only in December 2010 when members of the investigating team of the CHR arrived at Cabintoy’s home to ask him to give his first hand account of Jonas’s abduction some four years ago. Cabintoy was presented some 300 photos, where he identified Baliaga, who was not part of the two cartographic sketches, as the the man who was texting and who approached him on that fateful day.

When asked how he managed to remember Baliaga, Mrs. Burgos said Cabintoy’s answer was simple: Baliaga looked like one of his friends so it was impossible to forget his face.

Baliaga is one of the respondents to charges of arbitrary detention or possibly murder, together with Lt. Co. Melquiades Feliciano, former commander of the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA); Col. Eduardo Ano of the Intelligence Service Group of the Philippine Army and several John Does and Jane Does.

Mrs. Burgos said the fact that her son’s abductors now have a name and a face is a big breakthrough for the case.

Mere claims

The abductors’s getaway vehicle, with plate number TAB 194, said Mrs. Burgos, remains to be an “indisputable link” that shows that the military is behind Jonas’s enforced disappearance. While the military claims that the said vehicle plate was lost, “Just like what our lawyer (Ricardo Fernandez) said, the military has been claiming that it was lost but they were never able to prove it,” Mrs. Burgos said.

She said other cases of enforced disappearances do not have this strong an evidence like what they have pointing to the culpability of the military in the abduction of Jonas.

“We found ourselves in the families of the (other victims of the) disappeared,” Mrs. Burgos said.

Burgos said one of the main blocks in their struggle to find Jonas is making sure that high ranking officials of the AFP, who are also respondents to the case, would be held accountable. “We have not yet passed a law on the Anti-Disappearance Act so there is no law that would hold them into account on the basis of command responsibility,” she added.

“Even if this court would not find anyone guilty of abducting Jonas, in the eyes of God they are. Isn’t it harder to defend yourself in front of the Lord?” Burgos said. ()

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