On the acquittal of military officer in Jonas Burgos case and the culture of impunity in PH

Karapatan deplores the recent decision of Judge Alfonso Ruiz II of Regional Trial Court Branch 216 in Quezon City, acquitting Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. from arbitrary detention charges filed on June 2011 by Mrs. Edita Burgos, mother of abducted peasant organizer Jonas Burgos. The court decision is the most recent manifestation of the prevalent climate of impunity in the Philippines, where even a small fry like Baliaga cannot be made accountable for his crimes.   

More than ten years after Jonas Burgos was abducted by State security forces, Jonas is yet to be surfaced by his captors, and justice remains elusive for his family.

The Macapagal-Arroyo regime and its henchmen, then AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon (currently National Security Adviser) and then Chief of Phil. Army Intelligence Service Group Col. Eduardo Ano (currently the AFP Chief of Staff), among others, unleashed a brutal military campaign against activists, using an order of battle list, and instigated at least 1,206 extrajudicial killings, 206 enforced disappearances and other human rights violations (HRVs). Despite compelling evidence and testimonies on the role of the AFP in Jonas’ disappearance and after several legal remedies pursued by the Burgos family, the AFP denied responsibility for abduction of Jonas and refused to surface him.

Instead of prosecuting the brains behind such violations, the BS Aquino III regime absolved all the big fishes in the Burgos case, including Esperon and Ano, through a decision of the Department of Justice in 2013. This decision was again despite an earlier Court Appeals ruling that the AFP is accountable for enforced disappearance of Jonas and new evidence submitted to the Supreme Court on the involvement of Ano et. al. What has been more enraging is the fact that following their exoneration, they have been promoted to higher positions in the military, enabling a platform for their continued commission of human rights violations such as the killing of Lumad in Mindanao. General Ano has been promoted and appointed twice during the Aquino III administration, as chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP and as Phil. Army Chief. There were also at least 333 victims of extrajudicial killings, 29 victims of enforced disappearance and thousands who forcibly evacuated due to military operations under BS Aquino III.

More than ten years after Jonas’ abduction, the justice system continues to attempt to frustrate efforts of the Burgos family to seek accountability and find Jonas. Enforced disappearances continue under Duterte, with four documented cases of desaparecidos, and the climate of impunity has worsened, with the accused perpetrators in the Jonas Burgos case in power. This is clearly injustice many times over for Jonas, the Burgos family and all victims of State-sponsored violations. This injustice is borne out of the continuing implementation of counter-insurgency programs across regimes, programs that inflict State terror on the people, especially targetting those who uphold people’s rights and who work for genuine social change.

What remains a silver lining amid all these is the strong resolve and unrelenting efforts for justice of the Burgos family and all victims of HRVs. In the context of the intensifying fascist attacks against the people by the Duterte regime and its mercenaries in the AFP and Philippine National Police, the fight for justice will continue, in the streets and other venues for struggle.

Ilitaw si Jonas at lahat ng desaparecidos! Panagutin ang mga berdugong militar at pulis! Tuloy ang laban!

Reference:  Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, 0917-3162831

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580

 

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