Accused Major Harry Baliaga’s lawyer attempted to have the arraignment deferred but the motion was denied.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The Army major charged with arbitrary detention for the disappearance of peasant activist Jonas Burgos refused to enter a plea during his arraignment this morning.
Lawyer Julian Oliva Jr., lead counsel of Mrs. Edita Burgos in the criminal case, said that Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. attended the hearing but did not enter a plea on the charge filed against him. Oliva explained that if a respondent refuses to enter a plea, the court automatically enters a ‘not guilty’ plea.
According to Oliva, Baliaga’s lawyer Bumin N. Pasiwen asked the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 216 to defer the arraignment, citing the pending motion for reconsideration before the Department of Justice (DOJ). In a resolution dated September 3, the DOJ recommended the filing of charges against Baliaga but absolved other suspects who are high-ranking military officers.
Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) opposed Pasiwen’s motion, saying that the motion for reconsideration is “but a pro-forma motion that raises the same grounds of alibi and general denial.
Oliva explained that the same grounds were already raised during the preliminary investigation and were considered and rejected by the investigating prosecutors.
Pasiwen, citing the rules of court, said that the arraignment may be deferred when there is a pending petition for review before the DOJ. Olalia argued that a petition for review is different from the motion for reconsideration and thus, the rule cannot be applied in the case.
Oliva said further that the defense should have submitted a written motion for the deferment of arraignment.
Judge Alfonso Ruiz II denied Pasiwen’s motion.
The pre-trial was set December 5.
Meanwhile, members of the Families of Desaparecidos for Justice held a picket outside the Quezon City Hall of Justice in support of the Burgos family. The group reiterated its call on Baliaga to “spill the beans.”
“We again call on Maj. Harry Baliaga to bare all that he knows about Jonas’s abduction and disappearance,” said Lorena Santos, secretary general of Desaparecidos. “Spill the beans, soldier! Tell the court who else are involved in this crime.”
Santos said Baliaga faces a graver offense and punishment under the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act 2012.
The group also reiterated its call to charge, arrest and punish Gen. Eduardo Ano and the others who were originally charged.