MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 2 – 1:52 p.m.) The mother of enforced disappearance victim Jonas Burgos vowed to continue searching for him and said she is sure “justice will be served.”
“We will find Jonas,” Edita Burgos told supporters outside the Quezon City Hall of Justice on Thursday, October 12, where a trial court acquitted Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr. of arbitrary detention charges over her son’s disappearance.
A video of Edita’s address was posted on social media by her son, film-maker JL Burgos.
“Jonas, wherever you are, you know we’ll not give up, you know we will continue looking for you,” said Edita, the widow of press freedom icon Jose Burgos.
Jonas was seized as he lunched at the Ever Gotesco mall along Commonwealth Avenue on April 28, 2007 and has been missing since.
His abduction, along with those of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, who also remain missing, are among the more notable of the scores of enforced disappearance documented by human rights groups in the country.
Of the military and police officers against whom complaints were filed — among them now Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año — over Jonas’ disappearance, the Department of Justice recommended only Baliaga be charged in court.
However, Quezon City Regional Trial Branch 216 Judge Alfonso Ruiz II, in his verdict, said “no eyewitness testified to identify the accused Baliaga as one of those responsible for the disappearance of Burgos. In fact, none of the witnesses identified him in court.”
Despite this, Edita said they continued to draw hope from a Supreme Court decision naming the AFP and the accused officers responsible for Jonas’ disappearance and ordering them to surface him, even if four years after, that order has yet to be complied with.
“To the perpetrators, know that justice will be served,” she said. “Maybe not now, but it will surely be served because God is not sleeping.”
“Hindi tayo natalo, mga kasama (We did not lose, comrades),” she said.
WATCH THE VIDEO POSTED BY JL BURGOS:
The human rights group Karapatan called the verdict “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.”
It also denounced continuing incidents of enforced disappearances — four of these under the current administration — and other human rights violations it blamed on counterinsurgency programs “that inflict State terror on the people, especially targeting those who uphold people’s rights and who work for genuine social change.”
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. also slammed the verdict.
“We join the Burgos family and the Filipino people in condemning the continuing injustice over the disappearance of Jonas,” he said. “The utter lack of accountability should be a source of continuing shame for the Philippine government, its law enforcers, and its judicial system.”
Anakpawis party-list Representative Ariel Casilao said Baliaga’s acquittal “sends a chilling message to political activists, political dissenters and legitimate opposition — the acquittal is paramount to justifying abduction, enforced disappearances and even murder.”
Nevertheless, he added: “While the legal setback is present it will definitely not cripple the just cause to pursue the struggle to achieve justice not only for Jonas Burgos but all victims of fascist and tyrannical regimes past and present.”