Army officer linked to Burgos case acquitted

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Army officer linked to Burgos case acquitted
Edita T. Burgos, mother of abducted activist Jonas Burgos, heads to the Supreme Court in this photo taken April 2013 to serve a petition directed at the Armed Forces of the Philippines, who is allegedly behind her son's disappearance. -- BW FILE PHOTO

MORE THAN 10 years after activist Jonas Burgos went missing after being snatched from a mall in Quezon City, an Army officer charged with the abduction was acquitted by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) on Thursday, Oct. 12.

The verdict by QC RTC Branch 216 Judge Alfonso Ruiz II said the prosecution “failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of accused Harry Baliaga, Jr. as the person who abducted and arbitrarily detained Jonas Burgos.”

Mr. Burgos’s mother Edita told reporters they were saddened by the decision but would respect it.

“We shall continue and look for Jonas. This is a bad day. I feel so bad. But we will find Jonas,” Edita Burgos said.

Mr. Baliaga, now a major, was allegedly one of those who seized Burgos, son of press freedom icon Jose Burgos, as he lunched at the Ever Gotesco mall on Commonwealth Avenue on April 28, 2007.

But the judge 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.”

“A close scrutiny of the testimonies of the witnesses in trying to prove abduction will reveal that they were based not on their personal perception but based on statements made by other persons who claimed to have witnessed the abduction,” he added. “This kind of testimony is hearsay in nature.”

Aside from Mr. Baliaga, then a junior officer of Bravo Company of the 56th Infantry Battalion, the original complaint filed before the Department of Justice (DoJ) in 2011 also accused his commanding officer Lt. Col. and now Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Eduardo Año, then commander of the Army Intelligence Service Group.

A separate complaint for obstruction of justice was also filed against then AFP chief Hermogenes Esperon, then Army chief Romeo Tolentino, his replacement Alexander Yano and then Philippine National Police chief Avelino Razon, Jr.

However, the DoJ recommended that only Mr. Baliaga be charged in court.

According to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, a motion on the DoJ’s resolution remains pending. — Camille Aguinaldo/InterAksyon