How the military hid the truth behind Jonas Burgos abduction
Despite the recent pronouncements that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are eager to assist and get to the “truth” behind activist Jonas Burgos’ abduction Ronalyn V. Olea writes a piece for Bulatlat identifying their history of denial and obstruction:
When they heard about the abduction of Jonas, the Burgos family immediately went to the site of the incident and obtained important information from a witness. A security guard said the abductors who took Jonas used a maroon Toyota Revo with plate number TAB 194. The license plate was later traced to a vehicle under the custody of the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
Then commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division, Major General Juanito Gomez, claimed the license plate was stolen from the military compound. The military, however, showed no proof of the supposed theft.
On May 8, 2007 Mrs. Edita Burgos, mother of Jonas, met with the chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), Maj. Gen. Delfin Bangit. Bangit denied that his unit has custody of Jonas or that they abducted him.
On May 29, Mrs. Burgos sought the help of then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. Ermita responded by arranging a meeting between Mrs. Burgos and Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, then the chief of staff of the AFP on June 6, 2007 at 10 a.m.
Mrs. Burgos went to Gen. Esperon’s office at the appointed time but was told that the general had left for another meeting. She was met by two military officers instead.
In February 2008, Mrs. Burgos submitted to the CA a Philippine Army document, prepared by 1st Lt. Jaime Mendaros, that listed her son as an insurgent who has been “neutralized”, a military term for killed or arrested. Mrs. Burgos said she received the document from a friend of her late husband who is in the military.
Mendrados was called to testify. In an exclusive session, Mendrados denied involvement or having knowledge of Jonas’s abduction and said the document (OB list) is a fraud.
In April 2008, Retired Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino testified in court. He denied having told media in interviews that he knew that Jonas was an NPA and was in the Army’s OB list.
On July 21, 2008, the CA dismissed the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Mrs. Burgos, stating that the petitioner failed to show that the military was behind the abduction of her son. It granted partially the Writ of Amparo and directed the military and police to provide the documents needed in pursuing the case.
In its resolution in July 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the AFP to produce Jonas.
The high court also noted the “deliberate refusal” of the Judge Advocate General (TJAG) of the AFP, to furnish documents pertaining to Jonas’s disappearance.
Reacting to a statement by AFP chief Emmanuel Bautista, Jonas’s brother JL said: “General Bautista, if you want closure in Jonas’ case, imagine what the family of Jonas feels for more than 5 years. For a person who claims to respect the IHL [international humanitarian law], you dismiss the case of Jonas as ‘past case(s)’ when well in fact it’s an on-going case still very much unresolved.”
In a report, Bautista said: “These are all past cases. We also want to have closure on this case.”
“Looking forward, the respect for human rights, IHL (International Humanitarian Law) and rule of law are very much emphasized in our campaign plan,” the AFP chief said.
JL challenged Bautista to release all Philippine Army documents of the Jonas’s abduction. “It is just arms length away. Unmask the uniformed men and women, involved in the abduction. You know who they are. Tell us where is Jonas,” JL said.
“If you feel that this case is tainting the image of the AFP, this is because the Philippine Army did a crime and still doing a crime by covering up for the perpetrators,” he added.