MANILA, Philippines—Where is Jonas Burgos? Is he still alive?
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Thursday the inquiry to be conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation on orders of President Aquino would determine answers to these questions nearly five years after activist Jonas Burgos, son of the late press freedom icon Joe Burgos, disappeared after being abducted.
But first, De Lima said the NBI would have to look at the purported new and explosive evidence that Edita Burgos, mother of the missing agriculturist, submitted on Monday to the Supreme Court in a petition seeking the prosecution of officers and men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines allegedly involved in the disappearance.
“If there are new names there, they should be investigated,” she told reporters. “We are looking forward to the new evidence. We want to see it, and if we do, then the NBI should focus its probe here.”
Edita Burgos has declined to disclose details of the new evidence purportedly consisting of confidential AFP documents, saying the Supreme Court should be the one to decide whether to release this to the public.
Unidentified men seized the young Burgos at the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City on April 28, 2007. He was 36 years old then and was actively engaged in promoting organic farming in Bulacan.
Edita Burgos said earlier she had seen military documents listing her son in an “order of battle” of communist guerrillas and that alongside his name was the word “neutralized.”
De Lima said that President Aquino was “very, very curious” and “very, very concerned about knowing the truth” in the Jonas Burgos case.
“This time around, people and Ms. Burgos can be optimistic because the NBI investigation has presidential imprimatur … there is a big chance we will know what really happened to Jonas and who can be held accountable,” she said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Aquino directed the NBI to conduct a “focused, dedicated and exhaustive” investigation of the abduction after the Court of Appeals on March 18 ruled it was a case of enforced disappearance and held that Major Harry Baliaga Jr. and other elements in the Philippine Army were responsible.
In her petition on Monday, Edita Burgos said that she had AFP documents showing that intelligence units of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division and 56th Infantry Battalion were responsible for the disappearance of her son.
Speaking to reporters, De Lima said NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas had formed a team of lawyers and field investigators to handle the investigation.
She said the team has been looking at documentary evidence so far gathered by the Commission on Human Rights, the AFP and the Philippine National Police. She said the team would also look into the purported new evidence that Edita Burgos had submitted to the high court.
The NBI team has also been tasked to locate Jonas Burgos, De Lima said. “It’s only when we know what really happened to him will we know, hopefully, where he is,” she said.
According to De Lima, President Aquino wanted the investigation to be completed soon “but without sacrificing the quality of the work, without sacrificing the truth and like what Ms. Burgos had said, there should be no stone left unturned in this investigation.”
She said the result of the NBI investigation could possibly be included in the preliminary investigation that the Department of Justice conducted in 2011 on the case, which would soon be up for resolution.
De Lima noted that the PNP investigation showed that Jonas Burgos was abducted allegedly by the New People’s Army as part of the “purging” of its members. She said this finding was discredited by the Commission on Human Rights and the Court of Appeals.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Edita Burgos welcomed Mr. Aquino’s directive to the NBI.
“If it came sooner, Jonas would have been found sooner. The authorities would have acted sooner. But there’s nothing that you can gain from looking back,” she said. “I’m very happy and grateful. That’s an answered prayer. When the President gives that order, I’m sure that they’ll do the investigation properly.”
Edita, however, sounded disturbed by PNP Director General Alan Purisima’s statement questioning the Court of Appeals ruling.
“This is something that alarms me. He said the decision is a fruit of imagination. With a statement like that, he doesn’t seem to have any trust in the system. What message is he sending to us?” she said. “Their bias is showing. They shouldn’t be the ones investigating.”
Purisima on Tuesday said the ruling was based on the testimony of a lone witness. “Was it a product of imagination? If there’s one person making a claim, would that be necessarily correct? There should be corroboration from other witnesses,” Purisima said.