Seeing the light

For some reason, the Court of Appeals ruling dated March 18 was not made public until March 27—in the middle of Holy Week. That made a Lenten interpretation of the decision finding an Army major responsible and the Philippine Army itself accountable for the abduction of activist Jonas Burgos all but inevitable.

“He has the opportunity to make things right by saying the whole truth,” Edita Burgos, Jonas’ mother and the tireless petitioner, said of the suspect Harry Baliaga. “Here is a singular chance, perhaps from the Lord, to have the courage to reveal the details related to my son’s disappearance. The courage to say the truth is my prayer for all this Lent.”

Even Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, used the language of the season to express his group’s hope that the Court of Appeals ruling would not be “another Pyrrhic victory that resurrects false hopes for the crucified lives of the victims’ kin who have long suffered and waited.”

For a people who view history through the frame of martyrdom, these reflections not only flow naturally. They shape reality; Burgos, and University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, who were abducted in 2006, and the many others like them who were forcibly disappeared or killed, are martyrs, their suffering mirrored in the “crucified lives” of their kin.

Burgos, abducted by four men and a woman in 2007, in the middle of a crowded mall, is the face of the modern-day  desaparecido, victim of an extreme counterinsurgency measure launched during the Arroyo years. The wave of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the middle of the decade prompted the Supreme Court to introduce a new remedy, the writ of amparo, in 2007. The recent Court of Appeals decision is a judgment rendered on one such petition, consolidated with another petition for habeas corpus.

In 2008, in a panel discussion hosted by the Philippine Judicial Academy, Associate Court of Appeals Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando reflected on the difficulties of handling cases involving extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, based on the court’s experience with the first two amparo petitions (including the one filed by Burgos’ mother). “Probably the most serious roadblock to any investigation and prosecution of EJK/ED cases would be a claim of governmental or military privilege on the part of the respondents…. From our experience… the claim of governmental or military privilege almost always immediately stops the proceedings [in] its tracks…. Worse, attempts to suppress or withhold vital and relevant documents or information are made invoking such privilege. If allowed, it will completely jeopardize the entire proceedings.”

We join the many who are glad to see that the Court of Appeals has pushed back against the institutional efforts of the country’s security forces (the Philippine National Police has also come in for censure). We note in particular that the accumulated weight of their deliberate noncooperation has finally forced the court to see things for what they are.

In 2008, the court held that the (uncontroverted) evidence showing that the license plate on the vehicle used to abduct Burgos could be traced to a military compound was not enough to link the Armed Forces directly to the abduction. “We have meticulously perused the evidence but found it wanting to establish the claimed direct connection between the abductors of Jonas and the military.”

In the March 18 decision, however, the Court of

Appeals—to quote Chair Etta Rosales of the Commission on Human Rights, who had a copy of the ruling—said the “unwillingness to cooperate in the investigation conducted by the CHR” was “persuasive proof of the alleged cover-up of the military’s involvement in the enforced disappearance.”

Finally, the light.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=49767

Tags: Court of Appeals , holy week , human rights , insurgency , Jonas Burgos , Karen Empeno , military abuse , nation , news , Political killings , Sherlyn Cadapan

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • 9 confirmed dead after ferry sinks off South Korean coast
  • Aquino to public: Learn to sacrifice
  • 20 killed as Islamic extremists rampage in Nigeria
  • Drug firm Novartis to help Leyte firefighter
  • Fears grow for hundreds missing in South Korea ferry capsize
  • Sports

  • Walker leads Bobcats over Bulls in OT, 91-86
  • Man City slips further out of title contention
  • Federer would skip tennis to be with wife, newborn
  • Manny Pacquiao in PBA? If so, he’ll wear No. 17
  • PSC sets Blu Girls US training
  • Lifestyle

  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • This is not just a farm
  • Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  • Moist, extra-tender blueberry muffins
  • Entertainment

  • American rapper cuts own penis, jumps off building
  • Jay Z to bring Made in America music fest to LA
  • Why Lucky has not bought an engagement ring for Angel
  • Derek more private with new girlfriend
  • ‘Community’ star happy with return of show’s creator
  • Business

  • Fired Yahoo exec gets $58M for 15 months of work
  • PH presses bid to keep rice import controls
  • PSEi continues to gain
  • Number of retrenched workers rose by 42% in ’13
  • PH seen to sustain rise in FDIs
  • Technology

  • DOF: Tagaytay, QC best at handling funds
  • Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  • Tech company: Change passwords or suffer ‘Heartbleed’
  • Filling the digital talent gap
  • SSS to shut down website for Holy Week
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Syria most dangerous country for journalists, PH 3rd—watchdog
  • Japan says visa-free entry still a plan
  • First Fil-Am elected to Sierra Madre, Calif. city council
  • UC Irvine cultural night to dramatize clash of values in immigrant family
  • Filipino sweets and info served at UC Berkeley Spring Fest
  • Marketplace