Similarities noted in the enforced disappearance of Jonas and James

BAGUIO CITY — A forum at the University of the Philippines Baguio Tuesday gathered the family and supporters of two missing JB’s, who took turns telling of harrowing experience searching for their abducted kin.

A THOUSAND CRANES FOR A WISH. Arturo Balao and Editha Burgos add their origami crane to complete the 1,000 cranes to carry the wish for the surface of James and Jonas. Photo by Cye Reyes/NORDIS

In the said forum, the participants and the families talked on similarities in the two cases of enforced disappearance and how they could join forces to end human rights violations.

The Jonas rice

Jonas Burgos’ decision to take up agriculture in the Benguet State University (BSU) in La Trinidad, Benguet was influenced by his family’s decision to go into farming as a way of leading a simple life. Jonas helped the family manage a 12-hectare farm in Bulacan.

According to Editha Burgos, Jonas’ mother, he really loves to be among the farmers. “He makes it a point to help other farmers and expects nothing in return,” said Burgos adding he used to come home with farmers’ produce in exchange for a day’s work.

Burgos proudly said Jonas as an agriculturist developed a rice variety that withstands the strongest of typhoons. It is still being propagated to get more seeds for dispersal to other farmers.

“This is how dedicated Jonas is in terms of sacrifice for the sake of others,” said Burgos.

Jonas is a member of the Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Bulacan (AMB), an affiliate of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), tagged by the military as an “enemy of the state.”

Jonas was abducted April 28, 2007 while having lunch in Quezon City. Burgos recalled they were able to talk to Jonas the day after the abduction but he was sounding drugged or drunk and was talking non-sense.

According to a fact sheet about Jonas’ abduction, witnesses surfaced after the Burgos family had a press conference two days after the abduction. They recounted Jonas was forcibly taken by four to eight plain-clothed men who forced him into a waiting Toyota Revo. One of the abductors reportedly identified himself as a police officer.

Later the vehicle was reportedly seen at a military camp in Bulacan.

In Burgos’ account, the witnesses also said that while Jonas was being dragged, he kept on shouting, “Aktibista lang po ako,” (I am just an activist).

The other missing JB

James Balao’s activism started when he was still at the University of the Philippines Baguio, where he was the editor-in-chief of the student publication Outcrop. He then wrote several articles criticizing the Marcos dictatorship.

He is one of the founding members of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in 1984 and worked in its Research and Education Commission, extending his services and expertise in the Cordillera provinces.

CPA, the local chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), is also tagged by the military as an “enemy of the state.”

James was abducted September 17.

According to the October 13 press release of CPA, witnesses came out after they had seen a public announcement on James’ disappearance in a local paper and a tarpaulin along Bokawkan Road.

According to witness’ accounts, at around 8:00 A.M. of September 17 in Lower Tomay, La Trinidad, five unidentified men swooped on James and forcibly took him and put him in what looks like a Mitsubishi Adventure or a Toyota Revo.

While James was cuffed he cried “Saludsuden yo man dagitoy nu ania ti basol ko” (Please ask them what wrong have I done). One of the abductors then shouted at the witnesses, “Pulis kami! Huwag kayong maki-alam! Drug pusher ito” (We are the police! Do not interfere! He is a drug pusher!) and clamped his neck to silence him.

James was subjected to a heavy surveillance since April until his abduction. One of the vehicles on his list of suveillance cars was seen parked at the premises of the Intelligence Security Unit at Navy Base here.

A thousand cranes for a wish

According to a Japanese belief, a thousand folded paper cranes makes a wish come true.

The Balao family and Editha Burgos with the help of friends made a thousand origami cranes and placed them on a giant crane made out from bamboo, in the said forum, with one wish — for James and Jonas to be surfaced alive and well.

“Ang hirap maghanap kung hindi mo alam saan hahanapin,” (It is hard to look for someone when you do not know where to look) lamented Burgos. “We just want our loved ones to be unconditionally surfaced,” she added.

“I can imagine the torture James Balao’s family is undergoing right now, not knowing the whereabouts and condition of their loved one,” said Burgos as she vowed to be one with the Balao family in condemning the abduction of James and in saying that the military is behind all enforced disappearances.

“Mas madaling maghanap kung may kasama ka,” (It is easier to do the search with supporters) said Burgos adding she could not have been strong enough to handle his son’s disappearance without the help and support of others.

Jonilyn Balao-Strugar, the youngest sibling of missing activist James Balao, said the enforced disappearance of her brother has heavily affected the whole Balao clan.

“We have already stopped counting the days. We cannot even look at the calendar anymore,” Strugar said. “So much has been said and done already but my brother is still missing,” she said adding there is still a lot of push needed to find her brother.

She also said if Jonas has been gone missing for more than a year already, she fears it could happen to her brother.

Winston Balao, another sibling of James, said “We can only imagine the stories of the witnesses we have talked to on how our brother was brutally taken by unidentified men.” He also said it is painful to think why people like James and Jonas who help other people are the ones targeted by our own government and subjected to unthinkable torture.

The Burgos case was denied a writ of habeas corpus and was granted a partial writ of amparo.

Writ if amparo

Meanwhile, the Balao case has just filed for a writ of amparo October 9. The first hearing set by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Benigno Galacgac 16th of October was postponed when the judge was hospitalized and the executive judge who is supposed to take over in case of emergencies like this, also reportedly called in sick.

In her experience, Burgos said the hearings for a writ of amparo dragged a very long time. She has expressed hope that it will not be for the Balao family and prays they get a better legal chance in their search for James.

Burgos is one of the signatories of the impeachment case against Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo filed Monday in congress. # Cye Reyes (Nordis)

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