Major in Jonas case posts bail, gives alibi
On the day Edita Burgos’ son Jonas went missing, the parents of Army Major Harry Baliaga welcomed home their own son whom they had not seen for more than a year.
Baliaga had given this alibi before and he stressed it again Friday as he presented himself to the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 126, which last month ordered his arrest in connection with the 2007 abduction of farmer-activist Jonas Burgos.
Charged with arbitrary detention, Baliaga posted a P40,000 bail after submitting his mug shots and having his fingerprints taken. He was accompanied by his civilian lawyer, Bumin Pasiwen.
The court set the arraignment on Nov. 12.
The Department of Justice earlier found probable cause against the officer based mainly on statements given by a restaurant busboy who claimed he was the same man who seized Burgos and forced him into a vehicle outside Ever Gotesco Mall, Quezon City, on April 28, 2007.
Speaking to reporters at the Quezon City Hall of Justice, the 36-year-old Baliaga maintained his innocence, claiming he was in his home province when Burgos was abducted
“We came here to show that we believe in the justice system because this is also the justice system that will exonerate me. One hundred percent, I believe that I will be exonerated,” said Baliaga, a member of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 2000.
“I had wanted this to happen sooner because this would hasten efforts to serve justice for Mrs. Burgos and for myself,” he said. “I have always said, and it’s in my affidavits, that I had nothing to do with this case.”
Baliaga appeared last year in a Court of Appeals hearing on Edita Burgos’s petition for the writ of amparo. He became teary eyed on the stand particularly when asked about his whereabouts on the day Jonas was abducted.
On Friday, Baliaga said he had long wanted to explain why he became emotional before the CA justices—but again his voice cracked and his eyes welled up.
He paused to take a deep breath, wiped an eye and shook his head. He turned his back as though to excuse himself, took another deep breath, and asked for a five-minute lull before he could continue.
Baliaga, a native of Mountain Province, insisted that on April 28, 2007, he went to see his parents, Harry and Dominga, and his then girlfriend, Rachel, who is now his wife.
He said he had not been in his hometown for more than a year because he took a Special Forces training course at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province and later a basic airborne course which ran until April 19, 2007.
“I cried that time (when the justices) asked where I was on April 28 because I thought about my family right away. I was on my way to see them. But then here are other people saying: ‘No, you did something wrong that time’,” Baliaga said, adding:
“It was very painful for me to think that I was in that situation (of being accused). Basically, I felt self-pity. I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t take it, thinking that I was on my way to see the people I love most in my life and then others would say, ‘you’re lying, you were committing a crime at that time.’ That’s not right.”
Baliaga said the testimonies of his parents, as well as that of an aunt who joined him on the bus ride home, would prove his innocence.
He was at the PMA, teaching military science and military arts courses to the cadets, when he learned that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) had implicated him in the Burgos case, the officer further recalled.
Soon after, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reassigned him to the Army Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio to make him available for court proceedings. He was, in effect, placed on floating status.
“I could no longer follow the career path I wanted to take because of (the charges) being leveled against me,” he said.
Baliaga said he was already with another military unit, and was no longer assigned to the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion, when Burgos was abducted. The vehicle allegedly used to abduct Burgos was traced to the battalion’s headquarters in Bulacan province.
He said it dismayed him to hear the CHR’s insinuation that the military had put together a group of soldiers from different units to commit a crime. “Our military is not like that. There’s no military operation like that.”
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