Army officer denies link to Burgos abduction, says he was far away
BAGUIO CITY—The military officer who has been linked to the abduction and disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos in 2007 claims to be a victim of mistaken identity.
Philippine Army Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. said his family and members of the Besao community in Mountain Province had testified that he was at a clan reunion on April 28, 2007, the day Burgos was forcibly taken from the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City.
“We presented the investigators and the court with evidence that I was in Besao (town in Mountain Province) on that date,” said Baliaga but the authorities gave more weight to the testimony of a witness who claimed to have seen him with Burgos’ abductors, basing his identification on a photograph posted on the social networking site Facebook.
In a March 18 ruling, the Court of Appeals, which was enforcing a writ of amparo in the Burgos case, declared Baliaga “responsible for the forced disappearance of Jonas Burgos,” and held the military accountable.
The court also directed the military, the police and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to proceed with the investigation of the case after stating that it had not ruled on Baliaga’s criminal responsibility which should be addressed in a proper forum.
Not charged with any crime
“I have not been charged with any crime,” Baliaga told the Inquirer here on Saturday. “But my mother testified that I was in Besao and she could not understand why no one believed her.”
He said the appellate court was persuaded by a CHR report that deduced his culpability based on the Facebook photograph and his previous assignment in Bulacan as a member of the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion.
According to him, he left Bulacan in 2004 for other tours of duty until he was assigned to the Army’s Special Forces in 2006.
Baliaga said his relatives and community members in Besao were devastated over his treatment by the court and the media.
He sought out the Inquirer to clear his name, he said.
Like many families enjoying the summer, Baliaga said he spent the weekend in this city with his wife Rachel and their three young children.
Rachel, a Baguio-based nurse, said they managed to keep smiling for their son, 4, and their twin daughters, 2, “burying the anxiety that has given us sleepless nights since 2011.”
That was the year the CHR implicated Baliaga in Burgos’ disappearance, she said.
Baliaga, a member of Philippine Military Academy Sanghaya Class of 2000, said he was stationed at the PMA to lecture on tactics when he was told about the CHR report.
“That was the reason I was transferred to [Philippine Army headquarters],” he said.
Rachel, a graduate of the University of the Philippines Baguio, said the CHR report was also the reason she quit her job at Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center.
Baliaga’s legal troubles
The family has been shuttled back and forth to deal with Baliaga’s legal troubles, she said, adding that “it was difficult for the children so I decided to be a full-time mother until we could sort out this problem.”
Baliaga said the CHR completed its report on the Burgos case without getting his side.
He said the military supplied the CHR and the court with his deployment record, including the fact that he was undergoing a basic airborne course for the Special Forces on the month Burgos vanished in 2007.
The appellate court’s March ruling said it was mindful of Baliaga’s alibi, but it concluded that the evidence as well as the testimonies supplied by Besao residents could not “prevail over the positive identification [made by witness] Jeffrey Cabintoy.”
The court also said that Baliaga’s evidence “does not necessarily discount the possibility that he was part of the group that perpetrated the abduction,” based on a CHR testimony that the military occasionally undertook missions utilizing composite teams from its various branches. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon