Lawyers group says state, not rogue elements, behind Burgos disappearance

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The Court of Appeals’ decision on the abduction of farmer-activist Jonas Burgos shows it is not “rogue elements” in the military and police but the two institutions themselves that are responsible for enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of people perceived as “enemies of state,” a lawyers’ group said Saturday.

The National Union of People Lawyers (NULP), counsel of the Burgos’ family, said in a statement that the appellate court “correctly ruled” that the military and police did not undertake “extraordinary diligence” despite knowing about the abduction.

“It is our firm belief based on evidence, information, knowledge and experience that the military and police in the case of Burgos are not only accountable but complicit,” NULP secretary-general Edre Olalia said.

He said the ruling, though late and could probably never bring back Burgos, could at least open everyone’s eyes on the real reasons behind abductions, extrajudicial killings and tortures of activists.

“We hope that the ruling will not be for naught even as we take good note of studied opinions that it is tantamount to an indictment of the system itself,” Olalia said.

Olalia said the court rulings in the habeas corpus and amparo petitions on Burgos’ abduction were “highly significant” and a testament to the courage of Burgos’ mother Edith and her supporters who fought for the case not just in courts but before national and international forums.

“It (the court ruling) again judicially validates what human rights defenders and several national and international rights groups have been saying all along: that enforced disappearances—and extrajudicial killings and torture—are systematically perpetrated and perpetuated by the military and State forces,” Olalia said.

Clearly accountable

“It is thus not only some ‘rogue’ members but the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Army and even the Philippine National Police that are clearly institutionally accountable for such acts,” he added.

Olalia said the NULP hopes the Burgos case ruling would not be “another pyrrhic victory that resurrects false hopes for the crucified lives of the victims’ kin who have long suffered and waited.”

He noted that it took almost six years before the court finally spoke about who was responsible for the abduction of Burgos, who was seized by unknown men at a Quezon City mall in April 2007.

The NUPL questioned whether the Supreme Court rules for the writ of amparo

—issued in October 2007 and designed to be a legal remedy for those whose right to life, liberty and security against extrajudicial killings and disappearances is violated or threatened—has been effective or timely.

“Has it abated the killings and the disappearances? …Or has it remained largely ineffective?” the group asked.

Olalia said that both the police and the military “consistently tried to cover up and put up ridiculous scripts about the case,” and merely conducted an investigation that was “sloppy, partisan, perfunctory [and] token.”

“[They] over the years provided obstacles and made dilatory moves every step of the way, and casually moved to dismiss the petitions, conceal pertinent documents and records, produce false and perjured witnesses and pass off the blame,” the lawyer said.

The NULP maintained that the abduction and disappearance of Burgos was a planned and orchestrated operation that would not happen “without the acquiescence, tolerance, encouragement, knowledge, orders or instruction of higher officials,” some of whom may have been conveniently transferred or even promoted.

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