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Letter by Oscar V. Campomanes and Susan Tagle to the members and affiliates of the Critical Filipina and Filipino Studies Collective (USA)

posted Oct 11, 2008, 5:04 AM by Diego S. Maranan
Dr. Nerissa Balce
Comparative Literature Program
State University of New York at Stonybrook

Dr. John David Blanco
Department of Literature
University of California, San Diego

Dr. Lucy Burns
Departments of Asian American Studies
and World Arts and Culture
University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Richard Chu
Department of History
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Dr. Peter Chua
Department of Sociology
San Jose State University

Dr. Sharon Delmendo
Department of English
St. John Fisher College

Luis Francia
Asian/Pacific/American Program
New York University

Dr. Vernadette Gonzalez
Department of American Studies
University of Hawaii, Manoa

Dr. Theodore S. Gonzalves
Department of American Studies
Univeristy of Hawaii, Manoa

Dr. Dawn Mabalon
Department of History
San Francisco State University

Dr. Martin F. Manalansan IV
Asian American Studies, Gender and Studies,
and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory
Department of Anthropology
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Dr. S. Lily Mendoza
Human Communication Studies
University of Denver

Gladys Nubla
Department of English
University of California, Berkeley

Joanne Rondilla
Department of Ethnic Studies
University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Dylan Rodríguez
Department of Ethnic Studies
University of California, Riverside

Dr. Robyn Rodriguez
Department of Sociology
Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Dr. Jeffrey Santa Ana
Departments of English
Dartmouth College

Nicole Adapon Santos
Department of History of Consciousness
University of California, Santa Cruz

Dr. Sarita See
Asian/Pacific American Studies
Department of English and
Program in American Culture
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Dr. Neferti Tadiar
Department of History of Consciousness
University of California, Santa Cruz

Dr. Tony Tiongson
Program in American Studies
Mount Holyoke College

Prof. Rowena Tomaneng, Chair
Departments of English
and Womens Studies
De Anza College

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to appeal to you for support and to join us in our signature collection campaign for the surfacing of Mr. James Balao whom we fear was abducted or subjected to possible forced disappearance by the Arroyo regime's security forces on September 17th and has not been heard from since. James, who is known to be fastidious about informing his family, close friends, and colleagues as to his whereabouts at any given time, was on his way to spend a few days at his family?s residence in La Trinidad (Benguet) on 17 September 2008 early a.m. when all contact with him ceased. Every attempt by family and concerned colleagues to reach him or track him down has failed. Although the circumstances of his disappearance and possible abduction have yet to be determined with certainty, James had actually reported recurrent incidents of surveillance and harassment by unidentified elements in unmarked vehicles to family and colleagues, beginning June 2008.

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), of which James is a founding member, and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), now suspect operatives of the Intelligence Security Unit (ISU) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be the perpetrators of these actions. Our worse fears, that he may have been illegally abducted and is now detained someplace for an indeterminate period by state security forces, are stoked by the well known facts of James?s active political advocacy for Cordillera peoples? rights, his visible and decisive presence in critical fora and activities ventilating the Cordilleran campaigns for social justice, autonomy, and ancestral domain, and his unwavering exposition of and opposition to government repression of Cordillera peoples? organizations and initiatives within the last two decades.

As Amnesty International (AI) points out in a circular about his case issued on 25 September, the possible enforced disappearance of James can only be understood in the larger context and longer history of enforced disappearances, unresolved abductions, extrajudicial killings, and systematic repression of dissenters or perceived subversives that have characterized government and military policy in the Philippines since the Marcos regime and have picked up in intensity, impunity, and scope after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001. The government security operation Oplan Bantay Laya under Arroyo?s all-out counter-insurgency program, for example, blanketly categorizes progressive organizations and leaders, NGO or civil society activists, and critical journalists and citizens as ?leftist? or ?left-leaning,? and has often led to human rights violations and abuses so unparalleled in their impunity and violence as to be the object of UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston?s alarmed calls for immediate government and international redress in his report to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

It shall not surprise us if James, with his reported listing by the Oplan as a senior member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in the Ilocos and Cordillera regions, may have become the latest casualty of the Arroyo regime?s now globally notorious and reprehensible strategies of repression.

The University of the Philippine Baguio, through its Chancellor and various deans, faculty, concerned alumni and students, is releasing a page-long statement about James in a next issue of BAGUIO MIDLAND COURIER (James is an alumnus of UPB and a very good friend of ours while we were all attending college together at UPB). The statement expresses pride in the accomplishments of James Balao as a graduate and alumnus of UPB, particularly his decision to use his academic training and many talents in the service of the Cordillera region and the interest of Cordillera peoples.

Himself an indigenous person belonging to the Ibaloi and Kankanaey communities of Benguet, James was a star student at UPB who very early on showed so much promise in just about endeavor or academic pursuit on campus. He was as fine a writer as he was a genius at physics, as adept in mathematics as he could be at home in psychology (the latter being his eventual major). Becoming editor of Outcrop, the college newspaper by his junior year, James began to be active in the student political party SAMASA, and the Cordillera student organization PAGTA (Pag-asa ti Agtutubo) at the same time; it was soon a short step from these kinds of involvements to his work, after graduating in 1981, for the research staff at the Cordillera Resource Center and to his crucial participation in the founding of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, for whose Research and Education Commission he worked as trainor and researcher, devoting himself to pressing issues concerning tribal war and ancestral domain. Fanning out beyond these organizational involvements to regionwide campaigns, some of the most notable of which included work for CPA chapters in the various provinces and Ifugao in particular, such as his involvement in the Ifugao Peasant Leaders Forum (IPLF), James soon expanded the range of his work to include opposition to agricultural liberalization.

Where most people, upon graduation or after, opt to leave for better employment opportunities and life chances elsewhere, James's decision to remain in and work for the Cordillera region comes off as singular and worth everybody?s emulation. But it is such a sad commentary on the state of affairs in this country that the way the country's visionaries and socially responsible citizens are rewarded for their love of nation and region is through harassment, surveillance, abduction, even summary execution in now increasingly typical or everyday cases. It is our earnest hope that James remains alive or will be made to surface soon.

Please join us in appealing, strongly, to authorities concerned, to release or surface James Balao unconditionally; to the government and its relevant agencies to exert every effort in investigating his case so as to make accountable those responsible for his disappearance and, more importantly, to trace his whereabouts if state security forces are unavailing; and to all concerned citizens of the country to raise their voices against human rights violations and state-sponsored violence such as this and against so many like James. To do nothing about this insupportable situation?-as true of James as of so many else similarly punished for their social consciousness and activism?-is nothing less than an augury for a culture of impunity and a violent regime to reign rampant and to lead toward a revival, in another guise, of dreaded martial rule.

We have attached additional documents for your consideration. In one of them, there is a link for signing an online petition; another document is a sample letter for those wishing to write or pattern something similar or individualized. All the addressees/addresses for such petition and such appeals are also listed in another document for your guidance. Should you write or email on your own, kindly furnish us with a copy:

Oscar V. Campomanes,
Susan Tagle,

Grateful for your support--

Oca Campomanes & Santi Tagle