Palace orders NBI to conduct ‘focus, exhaustive’ probe of Burgos’ disappearance
MANILA, Philippines — President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to open a “focused, dedicated and exhaustive’’ investigation of the April 2007 abduction of Jonas Burgos shortly after his mother announced that she has obtained evidence that would implicate the military in Burgos’ disappearance.
Malacañang said the investigation would cover officers and men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), who have been required by the Court of Appeals to cooperate in the investigation and stop issuing blanket denials.
“As chief executor of our laws and as commander-in-chief, the President is mandated to do justice to every man,’’ Secretary Edwin Lacierda said.
On the President’s directive, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered the NBI to conduct a thorough investigation’ on the case of Burgos, the presidential spokesperson announced in a Malacañang briefing.
“This in fulfillment of the President’s pledge that any receipt of new evidence or leads will receive the scrutiny the case deserves,’’ he said.
In June 2013, then president-elect Aquino met with Burgos’ mother, Edita, before he assumed office in June 2010, Lacierda said.
Following the President’s orders, De Lima instructed NBI Director Nonnatus Caesar Rojas to form a special team to “ferret out the truth’’ about Jonas’ disappearance, and “determine who may be criminally charged under existing laws.’’
Edita petitioned the Supreme Court, last Monday, to order more military officers and men to be impleaded in his abduction, and refer back the case to the Court of Appeals, claiming she got hold of a “bomb’’ of an evidence.
The CA on March 18 ruled that Burgos’ abduction was a case of an enforced disappearance, and held Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. and the Army responsible. It also tasked the national police to conduct an “exhaustive investigation’’ of his enforced disappearance.
In her urgent petition, Edita said officers and enlisted personnel of two units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines abducted and interrogated her son.
She said documents from an unnamed source would prove that an intelligence unit of the 7th Infantry Division and 56th Infantry Battalion operating together seized Jonas from the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City on April 28, 2007.
The documents included confidential official reports on file with the Army, including an after-apprehension report, psycho-social processing report, and the autobiography of Burgos. These contained the identities of officers and men of the two units.
In her petition, she asked the high court to order the persons named in the documents to be impleaded in the two resolutions it issued in June 2010 and July 2011, and issue a writ of amparo to them, and refer back the cases to the CA for further hearing.
In an urgent memorandum on Wednesday, De Lima ordered Rojas to constitute a special team of investigators that in turn would conduct its own “speedy, exhaustive and independent’’ probe of Burgos’ disappearance.
The special team is directed to conduct a “thorough and independent evaluation’’ of all information and evidence gathered by various agencies, such as the Commission on Human Rights, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, and “pursue other possible leads, collect further evidence and take all other necessary steps towards the end of ferreting out the truth about the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, and determining who may be criminally charged under existing laws,’’ she said in the memorandum, a copy of which was released by Malacañang.
“Well, it’s the CA decision. It’s also the claim that there are new [pieces of] evidence,’’ Lacierda said when asked what prompted the President to order the NBI to conduct an independent investigation three years into his administration.
“There’s new evidence, it will require scrutiny from us. And so, to provide justice for all, the President has ordered Leila—Secretary Leila de Lima to look into it,’’ he added. “When the President-elect met with Mrs. Edita Burgos, he already told her: ‘If you have new evidence, let us know, and we will investigate’.’’
In the past close to three years, there was no new evidence, he said.
Since the investigation would cover officers and men of the AFP and the PNP, the President expected full cooperation from them, Lacierda said.
“Part of that investigation process will also require investigating the AFP, the PNP. And, as Chief Executive of the country, as commander-in-chief, it—there is no doubt as to the cooperation of the hierarchy,’’ he said.
After all, police and military agents cooperated in the NBI’s investigation of the Jan. 6 alleged “rubout’’ of alleged criminal elements in Atimonan, Quezon, Lacierda said.
“Perhaps the template we have here is the Atimonan incident as well. We want to make sure that it’s going to be exhaustive as what we did in the Atimonan incident. So will the AFP cooperate? Will the police cooperate? Yes, they will cooperate with this investigation,’’ he said.
The NBI probe would be independent of the investigation by the AFP, the PNP or the CA of the case, Lacierda said.
“The investigation is independent of any directives from the Court of Appeals. Our system of justice is based on the presumption of innocence, but also guarantees that culpability derived from hard evidence will exact accountability,’’ he said.
Lacierda assured the Burgos family that the government would look at all the pieces of evidence objectively. “And what we can assure the family of Mrs. Burgos is that we will look into all the evidence as they are presented. That’s the only guarantee that we have because as of now, they have not started the investigation yet. We will look into those documents and we’ll be able to—NBI will be validating those documents,’’ he said.
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