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High Court issues writ, orders AFP to produce Jonas Burgos

(Updated 6:25 p.m.) The Supreme Court has ordered the Armed Forces to produce abducted agriculturist Jonas Joseph Burgos, a move which came a week after concluding its two-day summit on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Radio station dzBB reported that the SC issued a writ of habeas corpus in connection with the petition filed by Burgos' mother Edita against military officials and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Magistrates also ordered the Court of Appeals to raffle the case on Friday, July 27, and to exert every effort to resolve the case. Witnesses claimed armed men seized Burgos inside a Quezon City mall and dragged him into a parked van. The plate number attached to the van (TAB-194) was issued to an XLT jeep that had been impounded at an Army camp in Bulacan for transporting illegal logs. In her pleading filed last July 11, Edita asked the Supreme Court to compel President Arroyo, Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr, military intelligence chief Major Gen. Delfin Bangit and four other officials to "produce" Jonas or "release him from arbitrary detention." "Should the respondents be unable to produce or release him, it is prayed that this Honorable Court will order respondents to find out who caused the enforced disappearance of her son, who ordered his abduction, to bring to justice those responsible for such crime," she added. Other respondents to the case are Army chief Lieutenant Gen. Romeo Tolentino, Major Gen. Juanito Gomez, Lieutenant Colonels Noel Clement and Melquiades Feliciano. During the SC's summit from July 16 to 17, Chief Justice Reynato Puno said that it was time to "unsheathe the unused power" of the judiciary to protect the rights of Filipinos, especially the "right to life." Puno initiated the summit to gather inputs from various sectors to stop the string of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. A major recommendation which came out during the summit was reformatting the rules of court. Legal experts proposed the use of the writ of Amparo over the writ of habeas corpus. The writ of habeas corpus requires authorities to produce the body of a missing person, while the writ of Amparo also compels state agents to exert efforts in finding the missing person. Interviewed by reporters, lawyer Theodore Te of the Free Legal Assistance Group said the search for missing people end when the military says the victim could not be found. Under the writ of Amparo, however, Te said the court can order the military or the police to continue the search and produce the victim. But Supreme Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the Court of Appeals cannot yet use the writ of Amparo in the case since it has yet to be incorporated in the present Rules of Court. According to Marquez, a committee chaired by Chief Justice Reynato Puno will tackle on Friday the proposal to make use of the principle of writ of Amparo in Philippine jurisprudence to further give the court more teeth in protecting civil rights. "Whatever result the committee will come out with will be referred to the Court en banc," he said. Senior state prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco was relieved from the task force investigating Burgos' disappearance promptly after naming six soldiers who would be summoned by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). They are Clement, 1st Lieutenant Jaime Mendaros, T/Sgt. Jason Roxas, Corporal Maria Joanna Francisco, M/Sgt. Aaron Arroyo and a certain TL. The military then tagged Burgos, a member of the Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Bulacan, as a member of New People's Army Front Committee 12 which operates in the province. Burgos is the son of the late journalist and press freedom fighter Jose "Joe" Burgos. - GMANews.TV