The Court of Appeals (CA) ruling declaring the Armed Forces of the Philippines and not Leftist rebels was directly responsible for the “enforced disappearance” of journalist and activist Jonas Burgos is being hailed as a “concrete, positive step” towards getting to the bottom of the climate of impunity which gripped the Arroyo administration.
Commission on Human Rights Chair Loretta Ann P. Rosales on Wednesday bared the March 18 decision of the Court of Appeals on the petition for habeas corpus filed by Burgos’ mother, Edita, against the AFP and its officers led by former Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon which she said reinforced the perception of a military cover-up of the abduction.
In a statement, Rosales said the CA decision recognized the abduction of Jonas Burgos as an enforced disappearance case covered by the rule on the writ of amparo. “The decision is noteworthy because it categorically declares the AFP, as an institution, directly accountable for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos. This conclusion effectively discredits the theory propounded by the Armed Forces that Jonas was the victim of an internal CPP-NPA plot,” said Rosales.
“The court held that the impleaded high officials of the AFP—Generals Esperon, [Lt. Gen. Romeo] Tolentino, Juanito Gomez and Delfin Bangit, etc.—were ‘imputed with knowledge relating to the enforced disappearance’ and therefore duty-bound to disclose all relevant facts concerning the case, as well as to investigate it with extraordinary diligence. Unfortunately, by failing to fully cooperate with the CHR investigation team, to the extent of denying the team access to vital documents, the AFP has failed to comply with its duties,” said Rosales. “The unwillingness of the respondent officers of the 56th IB to cooperate in the investigation conducted by CHR was taken by the Court as ‘persuasive proof of the alleged cover-up of the military’s involvement in the enforced disappearance.’”
Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr.
The court not only ruled that Maj. Harry A. Baliaga Jr., and the AFP, specifically the Philippine Army, as responsible for Burgos’ disappearance, it also held the Philippine National Police accountable for failing to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the case.
Rosales said the court cited the Balao v Macapagal-Arroyo case to differentiate the military’s responsibility and accountability:
“Accountability … refers to the measure of remedies that should be addressed to those who have exhibited involvement in the enforced disappearance without bringing the level of their complicity to the level of responsibility …; or who are imputed with knowledge relating to the enforced disappearance and who carry the burden of disclosure; or those who carry, but have failed to discharge, the burden of extraordinary diligence in the investigation of enforced disappearance.”
“I am happy over these developments. They are concrete positive steps on the part of the judiciary to address the climate of impunity that claimed the lives of hundreds of human rights activists during the previous administration,” said Rosales.
3 separate probes
Rosales said that the CA directed the AFP, the PNP CIDG, and the CHR to continue with their respective probes until all those responsible for the disappearance of Burgos have been brought to justice. The court likewise urged the PNP-CIDG to look into whether the abductors in the Burgos and Erap 5 incident case were the same. Rosales said that the police and military have likewise been ordered to provide full assistance to the CHR including submission of quarterly reports on the progress of their investigations.
“All in all, the court mandates three separate investigations. In order, however, to realize the twin goals of serving justice on the perpetrators of Jonas’s enforced disappearance, and turning the AFP and the PNP away from their repressive reputation, the resources—time, personnel and logistical—of the three institutions must be brought to bear under a common spirit of justice, transparency and accountability,” said Rosales.
Rosales said the CHR would request the court to “to elaborate on the full measure of accountability ascribed to the AFP, i.e. whether this extends to the duty to recompense the family of Jonas Burgos as required under international human rights law.”