“Where is he? Is he still alive?”
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Thursday the inquiry to be conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation on orders of President Benigno Aquino III would determine the answers to these questions nearly five years after activist Jonas Burgos, son of the late press freedom icon Joe Burgos, disappeared.
“This time around, the people and Ms Burgos can be optimistic that because the NBI investigation has the presidential imprimatur … there is a big chance we will know what really happened to Jonas and who can be held accountable,” she said.
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,” De Lima 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 there.”
Edita Burgos has declined to disclose details of the new evidence purportedly consisting of confidential AFP documents, saying it was up to the Supreme Court to decide if this should be released 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 President Aquino was “very very curious” and “very very concerned about knowing the truth” in the case of Jonas, whose father was detained several times during the martial law years for publishing newspapers critical of President Ferdinand Marcos.
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 that it was a case of enforced disappearance and held that Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. and other elements of 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.
NBI begins probe
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 was now looking at documentary evidence so far gathered by the Commission on Human Rights, the AFP and the Philippine National Police. She said the team will also look into the purported new evidence that Edita Burgos had submitted to the high court.
Part of the mandate of the NBI team was 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 Ms Burgos has 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 was now 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 its “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 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 had said.