Get Real

Mother looking for her young

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Don’t tangle with mothers, particularly mothers protecting or looking for their young. Those who do will live to regret it—if they live, that is.

In recent memory, the Argentine military dictatorship used everything it had at its disposal to try to silence the mothers of the  desaparecidos—including making some of them also disappear (their bodies were subsequently found). Its efforts failed. The other mothers were not intimidated. They just kept coming back, they just wouldn’t be silenced. Every week, they would gather at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a sign of their protest—this at the height of the dictatorship. The initial group of 14 mothers who met at the Plaza in 1978 (they still do) grew to hundreds and then thousands, catching the world’s attention and eventually leading to the end of military rule.

The mothers of Argentina were looking for their young, just as, in the Philippines, Edita Burgos has been looking for her son Jonas. And as a result of her dogged efforts, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in general, and the Philippine Army (PA) in particular, are now on the hot seat. The Court of Appeals (CA) has declared them “accountable for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos.”

Dogged is the operative word here. The obstacles were numerous: An initial CA decision in 2008 (Jonas was abducted from a crowded mall in April 2007) denied her petition for the writ of habeas corpus, on the ground that she had not shown enough evidence to prove that the military was involved in the disappearance of her son (!). She sought and found relief from the Supreme Court (SC), which is unequivocally the good guy in this case. So is the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) under Etta Rosales, whose thorough investigation, as ordered by the SC, resulted in the identification of one Lt. Harry Baliaga Jr. (who is now reportedly a colonel) as the principal abductor of Jonas Burgos, after a witness positively identified him.

In contrast, you have the Philippine National Police (PNP), whose investigation the SC found to be marked with significant lapses, including its not bothering to check out the sketches of the abductors against AFP personnel records. And the same thing goes for the AFP, with the SC making the same observation of significant lapses in its own investigation.  The PNP, by the way, concluded that it was the New People’s Army that was behind the abduction, while the AFP refused to cooperate with the CHR in spite of an SC order that it do so.

Well, the recent CA decision declares not only that the AFP and PA are accountable for the enforced disappearance of Jonas, but also that Baliaga is responsible for Jonas’ enforced disappearance, while the PNP is accountable for the conduct of an exhaustive investigation of that disappearance. At the same time, it directs the AFP and PNP to extend full assistance to the CHR, which has been directed to continue its investigation.

Which brings us to P-Noy’s recent directive that the Jonas Burgos disappearance be investigated by the Department of Justice/National Bureau of Investigation. Does the President not know that the CHR has been investigating this matter since 2010—and has done a great job of it in spite of the roadblocks the PNP and AFP/PA have put in its way? Or, if the President knows, does this mean that he doesn’t think much of the CHR work? Why the duplication of effort, and the additional delay, at this stage? Or, as Edita Burgos asks, why didn’t the President, as Commander in Chief, just call in his AFP chief of staff and his PA commanding general to give him the full story?

An at least equally important question: Will the AFP continue with its policy of noncooperation on the Jonas Burgos case, or will it live up to its Internal Peace and Security Plan, aka Bayanihan, adopted in 2010 and the brainchild of the current chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista? The Bayanihan is based on human rights and civil liberties.

On the part of the PA, will its commanding general, Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes, follow the old line, or will he follow the precepts of the Army Transformation Roadmap (ATR), which was adopted in 2011 and is also the brainchild of his predecessor, General Bautista? The ATR mantra is to “serve the people” and to “secure the land.”

This is a crucial issue, actually. I am a member of the PA’s MultiSectoral Advisory Board—a civilian entity (Jess Estanislao is chair, and among the other members are Vicky Garchitorena, Alex Lacson, Mel Sarmiento and Carol Hernandez) that is an offshoot of the ATR. From where I sit, it is clear that the PA is sincere in transforming itself. How it will comport itself in the case of the Jonas Burgos disappearance is an acid test of that sincerity.

Because it is not just the CA decision that is involved here. Edita Burgos’ very recent urgent ex parte (emergency) motion to the SC, where she has submitted what she describes as newly discovered evidence, puts the AFP and PA even more on the hot seat (she will be my guest on “Bawal ang Pasaway” on Monday evening, as will, hopefully, Lieutenant General Coballes).  We have all seen the picture of Jonas Burgos, which was given to her by an unnamed source.  The other documentary evidence that she received, if authentic—and she has gotten expert opinion on it—shows without a doubt that Jonas was abducted by the military.

This will be a defining moment for our men in uniform.

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