“He could not look at me straight in the eye… He obviously evaded me.” – Mrs. Edita Burgos
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – The Army officer implicated in the abduction of activist Jonas Burgos took the witness stand but failed to convince the Burgos family of his alleged innocence.
Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. appeared in the hearings at the 7th Special Division of the Court of Appeals on May 23 and May 24 and denied any involvement in the abduction of Jonas on April 28, 2007. The Office of the Solicitor General, lawyers for the public respondents, presented Baliaga as their first witness in the continuing hearings on the habeas corpus petition filed by Jonas’s mother, Mrs. Edita Burgos. The Supreme Court reverted back the case to the appellate court’s Special 7th Division in a decision issued in July 2011.
In an earlier hearing, May 10, Baliaga was positively identified by witness Jeffrey Cabintoy, then busboy at the restaurant where Jonas was taken.
In his testimony, Baliaga insisted he did not know any Jonas Joseph Burgos and that he has not abducted anyone. During the cross examination, however, Ricardo Fernandez, lawyer of the Burgos family, extracted from him information that, in Fernandez’s words, “made everything clear.”
“All my doubts disappeared. I am now certain he is involved,” JL Burgos, brother of Jonas, told Bulatlat.com shortly after today’s hearing.
Baliaga said that at around 9 a.m. of April 28, 2007, the day Jonas was forcibly taken, he and his aunt Clara rode a bus in Baguio City and arrived at their hometown in Besao, Mt. Province by 4 p.m. Baliaga said that he stayed there at their family residence from April 28 to May 1, 2007. He even said they had a family reunion.
When Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando asked him if he had the ticket for that trip, Baliaga said he never kept it. Fernando asked if he could show any photographs of the family reunion and Baliaga said he has none.
“There was no documentary proof that he was on that bus,” Fernandez, lawyer of the Burgos family, said. “It is now his words against the words of Jeffrey Cabintoy,” he said.
“Who is the credible witness here? Jeffrey left his normal life to become a witness. He has no motive to tell a lie while Baliaga is defending himself to avoid accountability,” JL said. Cabintoy left his job and is now under the Witness Protection Program.
Baliaga did show one piece of evidence other than the documents showing his assignments at the Philippine Army – a souvenir mug from a wedding that took place on April 22, 2007.
“I myself could produce one of those even now,” Mrs. Burgos said. The souvenir mug does not even have a photograph of the couple, Mrs. Burgos said.
“Alibi will not stand against positive identification,” Fernandez said.
‘Outright lies, inconsistencies’
As then commanding officer of the Charlie company of the 56th IB, Baliaga said their mission was to protect vital installations against the enemy whom he refers to as communists-terrorists. Asked if the 56th IB has its order of battle, Baliaga said he does not know of any OB and has not seen one.
Baliaga claimed he was assigned to the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) from 2001 to 2004. After that, he said he served as commanding officer of the 72nd Reconnaissance Company until September 2005. He claimed he went to school before he was assigned to the Special Operations Command based in Fort Magsaysay. He is now assigned to the headquarters of the Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio.
“He said he does not know what an OB is. Even civilians know what it is,” JL said, referring to the military.
When Fernandez asked if he knows what TNU means, he replied: “Yes, sir. TNU means true name unknown.” Fernandez said he encountered TNU in an OB.
Fernandez also asked if Baliaga is familiar with Edmond Dag-uman and Baliaga answered yes. He said Dagu-man was a former soldier assigned to the 56th IB. Baliaga said he arrested Dagum-an sometime in 2005 because the latter went on absence without leave (AWOL).
In the CHR report, Dag-uman also identified Baliaga as one of the abductors of Jonas. During the cross examination, Baliaga insisted he arrested Dag-uman because he was on AWOL but he admitted having heard rumors that Dag-uman joined the New People’s Army (NPA).
Fernandez asked Baliaga if he knew a certain Ka Ramon and if he knew that Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, in a document he submitted to the CHR on May 14, 2007, said that Ka Ramon is the alleged alias of Jonas Burgos.
“This is my first time to hear it,” Baliaga said. Fernandez then said it is stated in the CHR report, which Baliaga said he had read.
Fernandez said Emerito Lipio, an alleged rebel returnee, claimed in his affidavit submitted by the respondents, that Ka Ramon is responsible for the killing of Capt. Paul Fortuny. Fortuny served as Baliaga’s executive officer in the 56th IB’s Charlie company.
Baliaga denied having known Lipio and the details surrounding the death of Fortuny.
“The motives have been established,” JL said.
Mrs. Burgos noted Baliaga’s body language. “He could not look at me straight in the eye. I have wanted to establish eye contact with him for me to know if he is telling the truth. He obviously evaded me.”
“He took time answering the questions, as though censoring his own thoughts,” JL said.
In the May 10 hearing, Baliaga broke down into tears when asked about his whereabouts on the day Jonas was taken.
Baliaga admitted in court that he refused Mrs. Burgos’s invitation for a talk after the report of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) came out. The CHR report dated March 2011 recommended the filing of charges against Baliaga for his involvement in the abduction of Jonas.
Asked by Fernandez why he turned down the invitation, Baliaga said he feared for his security and that he knew that Mrs. Burgos was angry at him.
“I just wanted to ask him then where did they take Jonas so that I could find my son. Now, I want to ask him if they tortured Jonas, what they did to him,” Mrs. Burgos said.