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Army officer tagged in Jonas Burgos abduction skips CA hearing

August 22, 2011 2:03pm
Major Harry Baliaga Jr., the alleged principal abductor of missing activist Jonas Burgos, failed to attend proceedings at the Court of Appeals on Monday due to an upset stomach.

The hearing by the CA’s Former Special Seventh Division was in connection with the revival of the habeas corpus case filed by Burgos' mother, Edita.

Baliaga's lawyer, Assistant Solicitor General Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, said the Army officer was supposed to be presented before the court but he later decided against it due to his upset stomach.

"He said he was not feeling well anymore. He was probably nervous that's why he had an upset stomach," Tang told GMA News Online at the sidelines of the court hearing.

Burgos was abducted April 28, 2007 allegedly by military personnel while he was having lunch at a restaurant inside the Ever Gotesco Mall in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.

There was initially a mix-up concerning Baliaga's presence at the court because militant group Karapatan thought Baliaga was inside the hearing room. The group then informed reporters that Baliaga would be presented during the hearing.

But when CA Former Special Seventh Division head Associate Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando asked the camp of the respondents if Baliaga is around, his lawyers said he is not.

Aside from Salazar-Fernando, the court division is composed of Associate Justices Rosalinda Asuncion-Vicente and Bienvenido Reyes, who will take oath as a Supreme Court justice later in the day.

Reyes, appointed to the high court by President Benigno Aquino III last Friday, was supposed to have his oath-taking at 10 a.m. on Monday. He, however, decided to forgo his oath-taking so he can attend the hearing on the Burgos case for the last time as an appellate court justice.

"In deference to this case, I opted not to take my oath at 10 a.m. I don't want to postpone this hearing because of my oath-taking," said Reyes.

Habeas corpus case remanded to CA

In July 2008, the CA's Special Former Seventh Division dismissed Edita Burgos' petition for the issuance of the writ of habeas corpus and the writ of amparo, which are extraordinary judicial orders meant to protect victims of human rights abuses.

Mrs. Burgos then elevated the matter to the Supreme Court, which ordered the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to look into Burgos' disappearance and determine who should be held liable for his abduction.

Last March 15, 2011, the CHR submitted to the SC its report naming Baliaga as Burgos' principal abductor. The commission likewise said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has to answer for Burgos abduction. (Read story here.)

Acting on the CHR's report, the Supreme Court ordered the military to produce Burgos even as the former has repeatedly denied that the missing activist is in its custody.

The CA also ordered the CA Special Former Seventh Division to revive the habeas corpus case that the divison dismissed in July 2008.

Aside from Baliaga, the other respondents named in the revived case are incumbent Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr., incumbent Army commander Maj. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, and the heads of the 56th Infantry Battalion and 7th Infantry Division during the time of the abduction.

All respondents are represented by government lawyers led by Tang.

CHR investigator grilled

During Monday's proceedings, Mrs. Burgos' lawyers presented CHR investigator Bayani Arago as a witness. Arago headed the six-member CHR team that conducted the investigation into Burgos' disappearance.

In its findings, the CHR team said that Baliaga was positively identified as Burgos' abductor by witnesses Jeffrey Cabintoy and detained soldier Edmond Dag-uman, who confirmed that Baliaga was his former company commander at the 56th IB.

The CHR report that was submitted to the SC last March was then marked as Exhibit J, which will be used as evidence in the revived habeas corpus case at the CA. The CHR report's 46 annexes were then marked as exhibits J-1 to J-46.

On Monday, Arago confirmed that his team had a hard time in getting documents from the AFP's The Judge Advocate General (TJAG) Gilbert Roa and from the Philippine National Police's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).

The contents of the CHR report were disputed by Tang when Arago said Dag-uman did not directly name aliaga as Burgos' principal abductor.

"Your report contains a recommendation to direct the Department of Justice to commence the filing of kidnapping, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention charges against Major Baliaga. What then is your basis when you said Dag-uman did not name anyone?' Tang asked the CHR investigator.

But Tang's questioning was interrupted by one of Mrs. Burgos lawyers, Verena Kasilag-Villanueva, who said that the CHR investigating team also interviewed a slew of other witnesses aside from Dag-uman.

Tang likewise asked if the CHR team interviewed the personalities implicated by the witnesses, but Villanueva noted that when the CHR submitted its report to the Supreme Court, it gave the disclaimer that the commission's probe is still ongoing.

This apparently irked Tang, who said it was still premature to implicate Baliaga considering that the CHR has yet to complete its investigation.

"If that were true, it is premature and speculative to point to anyone as responsible for the Burgos abduction," said Tang. - KBK, GMA News
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