After President Aquino approved the promotion and appointment of the chief of the country’s top military spy agency, the mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos said she had lost hope that the human rights situation would improve.
Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año, who is facing charges over Burgos’ abduction, along with 45 other military officials, took his oath of office before the President as head of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) in Malacañang on Monday.
At the time of the Burgos abduction, Año was head of the operating arm of the intelligence group of the Philippine Army. Last year, Edita Burgos filed a complaint in the Department of Justice against Año, then a colonel, and other officers in connection with the abduction of her son. As of last month, the case was still under preliminary investigation, according to Edita.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was among those present during the ceremony.
“Before, I clung to little hope that the human rights situation would improve. The President was really busy, and that in time they would look at the cases of victims of enforced disappearances. With that development, I don’t think that will ever happen,” Edita Burgos said on the phone.
“I don’t think the human rights situation will improve while he’s President,” she added.
By approving Año’s promotion and new designation, Mr. Aquino was relaying the message to the military “to continue with the abuses,” Burgos said.
Malacañang sought to mollify Edita Burgos, wife of press freedom icon Jose Burgos Jr., by saying that the President shared a common experience with the human rights victims themselves, his family being a victim of the Marcos regime.
“I hope that Mrs. Burgos does not lose hope, especially since the President is also serious [about the human rights situation],” Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, said in a briefing.
“It’s no secret what the President’s family had gone through, and he knows how it feels,” Valte added, referring to the assassination of the President’s father, former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., on his return from exile in the United States in August 1983. “And that is where the need to help others comes from.”
According to Burgos, Año is among the respondents in a case filed by her family over the disappearance of Jonas. The activist was seized from a Quezon City mall on April 28, 2007, allegedly by military agents.
Burgos said the least that the President could have done was wait for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to complete the preliminary investigation of the case.
“I felt weak upon learning that somebody who is a respondent in my case was appointed and promoted,” she said.
“Of course, I don’t expect the President to know all the cases against different military agents. I’m sure he’s aware of the case of Jonas,” she said.
The militant human rights group Karapatan condemned the promotion of Año.
“By promoting Brigadier General Año to Isafp chief, Aquino practically absolves him of his responsibility in the abduction and disappearance of Jonas Burgos, and his role in terrorizing communities in Quezon province this year,” said the group’s secretary general, Cristina Palabay.
‘Culture of impunity’
Militants have taken the Aquino administration to task for its failure to stop the “culture of impunity” and prosecute perpetrators of disappearances, extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations.
On Nov. 22, the President responded by ordering the creation of an interagency committee on extralegal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations. There should be no room for these forms of violence and abuses of power by state or non-state forces, he declared.
Chaired by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, the committee will make an inventory of unsolved cases and those under investigation, and hold a preliminary investigation and trial in its first 30 days.
The committee shall then assign special teams to investigate the cases for the possible identification of perpetrators, with special focus on “high profile” ones perpetrated under the Arroyo administration.