Support pours in to surface missing activist


BAGUIO CITY — Support continue to pour in from all sectors, for the immediate surfacing of James M. Balao, an activist reported missing since September 17.


Photo by Brenda S. Dacpano/NORDIS

Declared by rights groups as a case of enforced disappearance (see side bar for related text), the Balao case is gaining even international attention as his family and friends intensify urgent search efforts.

In a proposed resolution, some Baguio City council members are united in condemning the involuntary disappearance of Balao and are committed to give any assistance to the family for the “immediate surfacing and release of Balao by his captors.” The proposal is up for deliberations during the council’s regular session Monday.

Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr., also condemning the abduction of Balao, said Thursday he would issue a directive to the city and regional Philippine National Police (PNP) offices for assistance in locating Balao immediately. He also asked the public to contact his office for any information on Balao’s whereabouts.

Police Regional Office Cordillera (PROCOR) Director Eugene Martin came out with a directive early last week to all provincial offices for any information on the case.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Leila De Lima of the Commission on Human Rights assured the family that their office would treat the case as a priority.

In an on-line petition signing initiated by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), of which Balao is a member, hundreds have already signed calling for the immediate surfacing of Balao.

“The search for James Balao gets more and more urgent by the minute. He must be immediately and unconditionally surfaced,” said the petition.

Wilma Gacayan Wilson, one of the petitioners commented, “James is a good friend of mine from college 20 plus years ago, in the University of the Philippines Baguio. James is a man of character, morals, ethics, principle. He has always stood up for the poor, the unfortunate and for those whose voice is suppressed. The Philippine government, if it truly believes in basic human rights, needs to expend all the necessary resources to ensure the safe return of James to his family at the soonest possible time.”


CONGRESS LOBBY. The Balao siblings (left) asked Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño some assistance for their brother’s enforced disappearance case. Photo by Cye Reyes/NORDIS

Meanwhile, Balao’s siblings along with the CPA and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) had a dialog Thursday with Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño who is a member of the Congressional Committee on Human Rights. He was in town for a speaking engagement.

According to Casiño, Bayan Muna would include the case of Balao in a privilege speech Monday, along with the recent disappearance of two peasant organizers in Bataan. He also consoled with the family and assured them of the party’s assistance in the search of their brother.

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance asked the CHRA to forward a case summary to New York to present it to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who was there to address the UN.

Amnesty International (AI) released an appeal to the public to send letters of concern to pressure the Philippine authorities from PGMA to the secretary of defense and the chief of police to order a prompt and thorough investigation on the Balao case and other cases of enforced disappearance and extra-judicial killing.

Meanwhile, militant organizations held a candle-light protest Wednesday and a noise barrage Friday condemning Balao’s alleged abduction.

According to CPA Chairperson Beverly Longid, Balao’s case is not an isolated incident and is part of a systematic government move against members of legitimate people’s organizations like CPA in its “counter-terrorism and anti-insurgency” campaign.

CPA members Markus Bangit and Alyce Claver were assassinated in June and July 2006, respectively. Both cases are yet to be resolved.

CPA alleged elements of the Intelligence Security Unit (ISU) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the perpetrators of Balao’s abduction.

Before his disappearance Balao had reported that he was in heavy surveillance since June and had often observed white and blue vans tailing him.

As of press time, no government unit has confirmed nor denied the accusation.

The Balao family continues to appeal for the witnesses to come out and for the public to give any information of Balao’s whereabouts. # Cye Reyes (NorDis)

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