The Philippines: AFP will turn over officer tagged in Jonas Burgos abduction

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will comply with a Quezon City court ruling ordering the arrest of Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr in connection with his alleged role in the 2007 abduction of activist Jonas Burgos, military officers said.

The AFP has not received the court order against Baliaga, but the military will “follow the law,” said Col Rhoderick Parayno, chief of the AFP’s Human Rights Office.

“I think it will be good for him because that is a forum for him to be given due process. It’s not just trial by publicity. This is better. It’s a forum where he can prove his innocence,” Parayno told Rappler on the sidelines of the congressional hearing on human rights held on Tuesday, October 22.

“That will be good not only for him but for the organization. The desire of the AFP is to have a resolution in the case of Jonas Burgos,” he added.

Baliaga faces charges for violating Article 124 of the Revised Penal Code for the “arbitrary detention and penalizing the detention of any person without legal grounds by any public officer or employee.” The court set the bail for P40,000.

Witnesses tagged Baliaga as behind the controversial abduction of Burgos on April 28, 2007 in a restaurant in Ever Gotesco Mall, Quezon City. (READ: Court pins down army in Burgos case)

The disappearance of Burgos, son of the late press freedom icon Joe Burgos, triggered a massive human rights campaign led by his mother Edita, who sought the help of local and international groups to pressure the military to produce him. But the military has repeatedly denied he’s in their custody. They also claimed Burgos is a member of the intelligence unit of the New People’s Army. (WATCH: Six years on, Jonas Burgos’ wife finally speaks)

Baliaga was relieved from his post but remains an active officer of the Philippine Army, according to AFP chief public information officer Lt Col Ramon Zagala.

Soldiers facing charges are relieved from their posts and “placed in a detached service, to a holding unit, so that [they] are available in case you are called to court,” Zagala explained.

Zagala said the AFP may also provide Baliaga a counsel.

The AFP also launched a probe but it is still ongoing, according to Parayno. “The AFP through the Provost Marshall General continued the conduct of investigation as mandated by the Court of Appeals. The investigation is ongoing,” he said.

The Commission on Human Rights and the Philippine National Police also investigated the disappearance of Burgos. “They are being helped by the AFP and the Philippine Army…in making available the personnel and documents to help in the resolution of the case,” Parayno added.

A CHR statement on the probe reads: “A judicial determination in line with the facts as found by the CHR investigation can only lead to the conclusion that personalities bigger and more powerful personalities than…Baliaga were responsible for Jonas Burgos’ disappearance, and, in all probability, for the many other cases of enforced disappearance and extra-legal killings in the past administration.” —