The military repeatedly refused to turn over to the courts documents that could have determined what happened to Jonas.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Following the recent developments on the case of missing activist Jonas Burgos, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it would submit to the legal processes.
The Special 7th Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) issued a ruling holding the AFP accountable for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos. Also this week, the victim’s family filed an urgent motion before the Supreme Court (SC) urging the re-investigation of the case.
“The AFP condemns any act of violation of the basic and constitutional rights of individuals. We are doing every necessary step to ensure that all our personnel strictly follow the AFP rules, regulations and policy which are consistent with the internationally accepted agreements and laws,” the AFP said in a statement.
The Jonas Burgos case itself, however, is a testament to what the family calls “institutional cover-up” of the military in cases of human rights violations.
When they heard about the abduction of Jonas, the Burgos family immediately went to the site of the incident and obtained important information from a witness. A security guard said the abductors who took Jonas used a maroon Toyota Revo with plate number TAB 194. The license plate was later traced to a vehicle under the custody of the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
Then commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division, Major General Juanito Gomez, claimed the license plate was stolen from the military compound. The military, however, showed no proof of the supposed theft.
On May 8, 2007 Mrs. Edita Burgos, mother of Jonas, met with the chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), Maj. Gen. Delfin Bangit. Bangit denied that his unit has custody of Jonas or that they abducted him.
On May 29, Mrs. Burgos sought the help of then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. Ermita responded by arranging a meeting between Mrs. Burgos and Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, then the chief of staff of the AFP on June 6, 2007 at 10 a.m.
Mrs. Burgos went to Gen. Esperon’s office at the appointed time but was told that the general had left for another meeting. She was met by two military officers instead.
Provost Marshal report
Mrs. Burgos then wrote a letter to Esperon dated May 21, 2007, requesting for a copy of the report of the Provost Marshal and the Inspector General on the involvement of the 56th Infantry Battalion on Jonas’s disappearance”. A follow-up letter was sent on May 29 of the same year.
On June 21, 2007, the Judge Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Nemesio Dabal, wrote to Mrs. Burgos, saying that the report of the Provost Marshal and the Inspector General could not be released because of it is “a classified matter” and the “restraint is a necessary measure in order not to preempt the final outcome of the case being investigated through the premature disclosure of an initial investigation result which is taking its course under the military justice system.”
On July 24, 2007, the Supreme Court issued a Writ of Habeas Corpus ordering the Philippine government to produce Jonas before the court. But because the AFP denied custody of Jonas, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals.
On July 27, 2007, the AFP, in a hearing before the Court of Appeals, denied that Jonas is being held by the military.
In August of the same year, the CA ordered the AFP to turn over the Provost Marshal’s report to the court. The Provost Marshal did not show up at the hearing and the AFP refused to submit the report.
The following month, the CA again ordered the AFP to turn over the Provost Marshal’s report but the AFP asked the CA to reconsider its ruling, arguing that the order violates the separation of powers under the Philippine Constitution.
In October 2007, the appellate court, for the third time, ordered the AFP to turn over the Provost Marshal report. Again, the government appealed the ruling.
In November 2007, the AFP finally submitted to the CA an incomplete copy of the Provost Marshal report. The report included only a summary of the findings.
The CA then issued a subpoena for the missing portions of the Provost Marshal’s report.
In December 2007, the Burgos family filed for a Writ of Amparo seeking to obtain evidence in the custody of the military that could help locate Jonas.
Gen. Esperon, despite a subpoena from the court, did not testify.
Lt. Col. Melquiades Feliciano, who was head of the 56th IB and accused of having knowledge of or is responsible for Jonas’s abduction, did not appear at the court hearing.
In February 2008, Mrs. Burgos submitted to the CA a Philippine Army document, prepared by 1st Lt. Jaime Mendaros, that listed her son as an insurgent who has been “neutralized”, a military term for killed or arrested. Mrs. Burgos said she received the document from a friend of her late husband who is in the military.
Mendrados was called to testify. In an exclusive session, Mendrados denied involvement or having knowledge of Jonas’s abduction and said the document (OB list) is a fraud.
In April 2008, Retired Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino testified in court. He denied having told media in interviews that he knew that Jonas was an NPA and was in the Army’s OB list.
On July 21, 2008, the CA dismissed the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Mrs. Burgos, stating that the petitioner failed to show that the military was behind the abduction of her son. It granted partially the Writ of Amparo and directed the military and police to provide the documents needed in pursuing the case.
In August of the same year, Mrs. Burgos filed an appeal to the SC seeking to reverse the ruling of the appellate court on the petition for habeas corpus.
After almost two years, the high court acted on the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and directed the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to re-investigate the case, citing serious lapses in the previous investigations of the police.
On March 15, 2011, the CHR submitted to the SC its report on the Jonas Burgos case. It named Army Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. as the principal abductor.
In its resolution in July 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the AFP to produce Jonas.
The high court also noted the “deliberate refusal” of the Judge Advocate General (TJAG) of the AFP, to furnish documents pertaining to Jonas’s disappearance.
The high court ordered TJAG, the AFP’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (J1), and former AFP chief of staff Ricardo David to show cause and explain why they should not be held in contempt for defying its order to provide the CHR the documents that are relevant in investigating Jonas’ disappearance.
In October 2011 hearing of the CA on the writ of amparo petition, Senior Supt. Joel Napoleon Coronel, former regional director of the National Capital Region (NCR) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) who investigated the abduction of Jonas, said they asked the military for a roster of the 56th IB but the Army refused, citing security reasons.
In the same hearing, lawyer Ricardo Fernandez, counsel of the Burgos family, called on the CA justices to enjoin the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to show the photograph of a certain Lt. Fernando who has been identified by a witness, through a cartographic sketch, as one of those who took Jonas. Fernandez said the identification of the female suspect “could establish the link between the abductors and the military.”
Before the start of the hearing, Assistant Solicitor General Amparo Tang, counsel of the public respondents, showed defense lawyer Fernandez a copy of the summary of information of 1st Lt. Rachel Fernando-Facunda, formerly assigned to the 56th IB. When Fernandez insisted that Tang show the photograph of the female soldier to the justices and to Coronel, Tang objected.
Tang said the SC resolution clearly states that the summary of information and the other documents were submitted by the OSG exclusively to the high court.
The justices did not allow the showing of photograph, stating the need to abide by the SC decision.
Baliaga is still in active service with the Philippine Army. Then Col. Eduardo Año, also charged with kidnapping in connection with the disappearance of Jonas, has been appointed by President Benigno Aquino III as the new ISAFP chief.
To this day, Jonas remains missing.
Prove respect for human rights
Reacting to a statement by AFP chief Emmanuel Bautista, Jonas’s brother JL said: “General Bautista, if you want closure in Jonas’ case, imagine what the family of Jonas feels for more than 5 years. For a person who claims to respect the IHL [international humanitarian law], you dismiss the case of Jonas as ‘past case(s)’ when well in fact it’s an on-going case still very much unresolved.”
In a report, Bautista said: “These are all past cases. We also want to have closure on this case.”
“Looking forward, the respect for human rights, IHL (International Humanitarian Law) and rule of law are very much emphasized in our campaign plan,” the AFP chief said.
JL challenged Bautista to release all Philippine Army documents of the Jonas’s abduction. “It is just arms length away. Unmask the uniformed men and women, involved in the abduction. You know who they are. Tell us where is Jonas,” JL said.