Mother of missing activist decries continuing cover-up

“I’m about to cry. It’s been five years and we are not even closer to finding Jonas.” – Mrs. Edita Burgos

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – For almost five years now, Mrs. Edita Burgos has been groping in the dark. Searching for her missing son Jonas,Mrs. Burgos faced one cover-up after another.

Mrs. Burgos went to the courts and availed of every legal remedy there is, with the hope of finding her third child who was abducted by suspected state agents on April 28, 2007.

Like any other hearing she religiously attended, Mrs. Burgos sat silently as the Court of Appeals (CA) Special 7th Division began its proceedings, February 28. It is the same court that heard and denied her writ of amparo petition four years ago.

“I’m about to cry,” Mrs. Burgos told Bulatlat.com shortly after the hearing. “It’s been five years and we are not even closer to finding Jonas.”

After the CA first dismissed the petition filed by Mrs. Burgos in July 2008, Mrs. Burgos went to the Supreme Court. After almost two years, the high court issued a resolution in July 2010 directing the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the disappearance of Jonas after noting significant lapses in the police investigation. Before that, Mrs. Burgos said they sought the help of the CHR but the investigation was closed when she was “unjustly accused of being uncooperative.”

In its investigation, the CHR led by Commissioner Jose Mamauag found that the abduction of Jonas is “not a simple case of kidnapping done by some individuals within the military, but is, in fact, a part of the entire counter-insurgency program of the past administration wherein both military and police forces played a crucial role in its enforcement.”

The CHR has asked the high court to direct Army Lt. Harry Baliaga Jr. to produce Jonas. Baliaga, formerly assigned to the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA), was identified by witnesses as one of those who abducted Jonas. The CHR recommended the filing of kidnapping charges against Baliaga. The commission also urged the high court to grant the petition for writ of amparo filed by Mrs. Burgos.

In July 2011, the SC affirmed the findings of the CHR and directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to produce Jonas. The AFP maintained it was not behind the abduction.

The high court ordered the CA to hear again the petition of Mrs. Burgos and render a decision 30 days after the case is submitted for resolution.

The previous hearing heard the testimony of Col. Dick Abletes, formerly assigned with the 56th IBPA and who was summoned as a hostile witness. Abletes was arrested on March 6, 2007 and was subjected to court martial proceedings for violating three Articles of War for allegedly providing classified information to members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA).

Ricardo Fernandez, lawyer of Mrs. Burgos, said they want to know if Abletes’s arrest and detention have something to do with the disappearance of Jonas.

Fernandez said Abletes was caught on video allegedly turning over the 56th IB’s order of battle to Melissa Reyes, a rebel returnee. In her affidavit, Reyes said she was supposed to introduce Abletes to a certain “Ka Ramon” on April 28, 2007 at the Ever Gotesco Mall. She further said that Jonas Burgos is the true name of Ramon. No less than Col. Melquiades Feliciano, in his previous testimony before the CA, said that Jonas has the alias “Ramon” and affirmed that Ka Ramon is listed in the order of battle.

During the February 21 hearing, Abletes denied spying for the enemy and said he only wanted to know more about the operations of the CPP and NPA in Bulacan at that time.

Abletes confirmed that he knew Reyes but denied providing the order of battle to her. He also denied having any knowledge about Ka Ramon or Jonas. He said his arrest has nothing to do with Jonas.

Abletes said he was detained for four years, with his first year in solitary confinement, for a crime he did not know. He was released in September last year after the court martial acquitted him of the charges.

Dissatisfied with the testimony of Abletes, Fernandez wants to see the records of his case at the court martial. He asked the CA to subpoena the incumbent Army Judge Advocate Marian Aleido to testify.

“There is mystery here,” Fernandez said. “Nobody told us about this. We’re looking for a missing person. Allow us a leeway to find information that could help us find Jonas.”

On February 28, Aleido did come but without the documents requested from her office. She said she needs the approval of the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) before she could furnish the court a copy of the court martial proceedings on Abletes case.

Asked how much time she needs for the Chief of Staff to decide whether or not to release the documents, Aleido said it might take three weeks.

“We may not see anything there but I have to see it,” Fernandez said. “Clearly, there is a cover-up.”

Mrs. Burgos said the secrecy of the military contributes to the culture of impunity. From day one, Mrs. Burgos said the military has always been hiding the truth. She recalled that the AFP Provost Marshal report on the incident had been withheld for ten months. When it was finally released, Mrs. Burgos said it was not even complete.

In its resolution in July 2011, the high court also noted the “deliberate refusal” of the Judge Advocate General (TJAG) of the AFP, to furnish documents pertaining to Jonas’s disappearance.

The next hearings have been scheduled on April 11 and 12.

“We will celebrate our fifth year next month,” Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando said. To which Fernandez answered, “There is nothing to celebrate about.”

To a mother, each day without her son is hell. Mrs. Burgos walked silently out of the hearing room. ()

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