By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY— “The torture is not only to the victim of enforced disappearance,” said Winston Balao, younger brother of James Balao who was abducted five years ago.
Winston described how they longed to see their brother who was dragged at gunpoint by armed men believed to be state security forces in Tomay, La Trinidad on Sept. 17, 2008.
“It is painful to think and it is hard to accept that our brother is missing. We do not know what is being done to him. Is he being tortured? We do not even know if he is already dead,” Winston said in Filipino during a forum on the human rights violations in the Philippines held at the Baguio-Benguet Credit Cooperative Inc. (BBCI) building, Sept. 17.
Since James went missing, the Balao family, together with members of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) of which James is a founding member, Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), national and international organizations conducted painstaking search for James.
“Five long years passed, to those who have him, please, have a heart and let him come back home to us. If you killed him, like what our late father said, give us back his bones so that we can give him a proper burial,” the Balao siblings said in a joint letter.
James’s siblings Winston, Nonette and Joni said their brother was abducted under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her brutal internal security policy Oplan Bantay Laya. “She was heartless. Hundreds went missing like James and more than a thousand people were killed and tortured. Enemies of the State subjected to the terror of the policy are teachers, doctors, nurses, journalists, educators, agriculturists, social workers, even students, farmers, indigenous peoples – honorable men and women who have the will to serve their fellow men. These are the people who tirelessly help the people safeguard their land and rights,” they said.
Winston said they searched almost every camp of both the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP). He said they went to camps in Baguio City, Ilocos region, Central Luzon and in Manila. He said that various organizations here in the country and even abroad sent letters to then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and now President Benigno Aquino III asking for their help to surface James. “Still, nothing, happened,” Winston said.
Winston said that this is one form of persecution from the government and it is really the worst as the sufferings are extended to the family, relatives and friends of the victim. He lamented that their parents have already gone without seeing their eldest son.
The Balao siblings noted that “the present President allows enforced disappearances under his Operation Plan Bayanihan.”
In a statement, the CPA decried that the government has not done enough to locate James. The writ of amparo filed by CPA and the Balao family in 2008 has not resulted in the surfacing of James.
In April, Judge Jennifer Humiding of the Regional Trial Court Branch 63 expressed disappointment over the investigation being conducted by the PNP through its Special Investigation Task Force Group-Balao (STIFG-B).
The said report was submitted to the Supreme Court (SC) pursuant to the directive of the SC December 13, 2011 decision directing the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to conduct impartial and substantial investigation and submit periodic reports to the RTC.
The CPA said the court’s report proves that “not enough was done by the State to locate James – a clear portrayal of impunity in this country.”
“We vow to persist in the campaign and the search. If he is alive, we hope that he will receive news that we continue the search for him. This will provide him strength and hope wherever he is being kept or detained. If he is not, his family has every right to have him and to closure. Only our collective efforts will lead us to him and to justice,” the CPA said. With reports from