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Updates on the James Balao case from Audrey Beltran

posted Oct 10, 2008, 9:16 AM by Diego S. Maranan   [ updated Oct 10, 2008, 7:17 PM ]

October 3, 2008

Dear Friends:

This is to update you on our continuing efforts for the immediate surfacing of James M. Balao. The response to our urgent alert, call for support and missing bulletin is widespread.  It is inspiring that the support continues to pour in. Sadly, we have not gathered new information on the whereabouts and state of James and thus, we need to continue and even double our efforts to locate, appeal and call for the immediate release of James from those who keep him in their custody. Each day that passes with no positive developments, his life in the hands of his captors, is an unimaginable torture to all of us. Each day, the family and us wait and hope for new information yet at the same time dread that it is of his death. Thus, your continuing support becomes  more urgent in saving the life of James.

 

While we continue with our efforts, we reiterate that the enforced disappearance of James is not an isolated incident.  It is an attack on the CPA, on its leaders and members for their assertion of indigenous peoples rights and active involvement on economic, social, and political issues. It has taken a very critical position and/or opposition on government policies of liberalization, privatization, deregulation and militarization.

Let us never forget!: the killings of Ama Daniel Ngayaan, Romy Gardo, Markus Bangit, Albert Terredano, Alyce Omengan-Claver and many more; the continuing harassment and surveillance on our persons and offices; and malicious tagging by the military that we are communist terrorists, thus, enemies of the State.

These attacks including the disappearance of James point to a well–planned, state–instigated campaign to harass, intimidate, terrorize, and ultimately attempt to incapacitate organizations and offices who have been involved in the broad democratic movement, particularly on issues concerning violations of human rights and indigenous peoples' rights. We are witnesses to a renewed and still unfolding campaign of state terrorism.

Search 

Immediately after we posted the missing bulletin, relatives of James and volunteers mounted posters on James' disappearance at Fairview, Avelino where he was last seen and in public posting areas.  Two teams scoured the streets near his apartment to ask his neighbors for any information they might provide on James' disappearance.

The family and we immediately conducted inquiries with the camps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).  The Balao family, Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) visited the AFP Military Intelligence Group (MIG) at Camp Allen, the AFP Intelligence Service Unit (ISU) at Navy Base, Pacdal and PNP Regional Office of the Cordillera Administrative Region (PRO-CA) in Camp Dangwa.  We made calls to PNP Officials in Pangasinan and Cagayan to get their commitment in our search for James. 

Just this September 30, two teams of volunteers from the CPA and CHRA accompanied the Balao family, to Abra and Ilocos to inquire with AFP and PNP camps.  The teams visited and inquired with the following units:  (a) 50th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army (IBPA) at Guimod Norte, San Juan, Ilocos Sur (IS); (b) IS PNP Provincial Office at Bulag, Bantay, IS and the AFP offices within the compound; (c) PNP Ilocos Sur Regional Mobile Group (RMG) in Bio, Tagudin, IS, (d) 503rd Brigade PA (BDE) in Sulvec, Narvacan, IS; (e) 503rd Brigade PA headquarters in Lagangilang, Abra and the (f) PNP Regional Police Office at San Fernando, La Union.  All of the units visited denied that they have James in their custody.

Two days after, the Balao family and their clan together with the CPA and the CHRA, went back to Ilocos Sur upon receiving information from reliable sources within the military and the police that the disappearance of James was undertaken by the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) and Intelligence Service Unit (ISU) of Region 1. (Region 1 as an administrative region covers the provinces of La Union, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte and Pangasinan.) The provincial government of Ilocos Sur through Gov. Deogracias Victor 'DV' Savellano initiated a dialogue between the family and the military. A certain Lt. Wilfredo Tambio and Sgt. Marcelo Garcia acting under orders of Col. Roy Devesa of the 503rd BDE, met with the family. The said military officers did not give an outright denial that they have James in their custody or participated in his disappearance. Provincial Board member, Atty. Robert Tudayan also assisted the family during this second visit.

Public Information, and Protests

 

Aside from the inquiries with camps, we also held information dissemination activities, three (3) press conferences, so far (September 23, 29 and 30).  The urgent action, letter of concern, and CHRA and CPA press statements were distributed online.  A petition calling on the government to surface James is being circulated in schools, communities etc., which is also posted online and has so far gathered close to a thousand signatures.

Activities denouncing the enforced disappearance have been held regularly (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) at the Malcolm Square/People's Park since September 24.  James' family, relatives, friends, different people's organizations and institutions have been consistently present during the activities.  The number of people who show their solidarity in these activities consistently grows. 

Very recently, the ALL UP Academic Union Baguio Chapter and the Interfaith Gathering for Truth and Accountability have issued their statements of concern on the enforced disappearance. 

Local Government Support

Baguio City Mayor Peter Rey Bautista with newly-installed Baguio City Police Office Director (BCPO) Wilfredo Franco have stated to the media that they will convene the Task Force Balao (TF) to look into this case. The said TF has yet to coordinate with the family.

 

The Baguio City Council in its session on September 29 collectively and unanimously approved the following resolution forwarded by councilors Perlita Chan-Rondez, Nicasio Palaganas, Fred Bagbagen, Galo Weygan, Richard Carino, and Nicasio Palaganas, and Vice-Mayor Daniel Farinas: RESOLUTION CONDEMNING THE ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE OF JAMES M. BALAO, MEMBER OF THE CORDILLERA PEOPLES ALLIANCE (CPA) AND ASSISTING HIS FAMILY, THE CORDILLERA PEOPLES ALLIANCE (CPA) AND THE CORDILLERA HUMAN RIGHTS ALLIANCE (CHRA) IN THE IMMEDIATE SURFACING AND RELEASE OF JAMES M. BALAO BY HIS CAPTORS. We are hoping for similar actions from other local government units.

National Lobby and Support

The family and the CPA have written the concerned desks or committees of the following government agencies: the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the GRP-NDFP Joint Monitoring Committee-CARHRIHL. 

In an audience with our national alliance KARAPATAN (Alliance for Peoples Rights) on September 22, CHR Commissioner de Lima committed to look into the case of James and put his case as a priority for the Commission.

Through the CHRA, the family and the CPA met with Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casino last September 25.  The partylist representative committed to bring up the case at the Committee on Human Rights in Congress aside from assisting the family in the search for James.

Recently, the family together with the CPA appealed to the members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives from the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) for assistance. They also met with some police and military officials.

The office of Senator Francisco 'Kiko' Pangilinan issued a press release entitled: 'Kiko backs amnesty international's call for safe return of missing indigenous rights activist; calls on military to be transparent.' This is available in the website of the Philippine Senate. On our end, we circulated this to the media.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was likewise informed about the case and they committed to inquire with the Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) of the AFP and with the 5th ID in Gamu, Isabela.

International Support

The Amnesty International has issued its own urgent alert on September 26, the New Zealand Human Rights Commissionthrough its Senior Advisor Dr. Jill Chrisp communicated that she shall raise the concern with the Commission on Human Rights-Philippines with whom they have a joint project with. The International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) based in Denmark has submitted their Letter of Concern to the concerned government offices in the Philippines. 

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) received and immediately transmitted the complaint filed by the family last September 26 to the Philippine government. 

On September 30, Forum Asia submitted a Fact Sheet on the disappearance of James Balao to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office in Bangkok.

The US Embassy in the Philippines is including the case of James Balao in their Human Rights Report for the year 2008.

We also received immediate response from different organizations through the International League of People's Struggles (ILPS) to which the CPA is affiliated.  A lot of organizations, groups, and individuals from different countries in Europe, Asia, and America including the Philippines and members of the CPA Friends Abroad have also responded by signing in the Petition, sending Letters of Concern to Philippine government agencies and circulating the urgent alert. However, despite the foregoing extensive effort, we have done with the family and the international support continuously pouring in, the captors of James have not yet surfaced him. Each day that passes with no positive developments, his life in the hands of his captors, your continuing support becomes  more urgent in saving the life of James.

We continue to hope that due to our efforts, the captors of James shall surface him and those responsible for his enforced disappearance made duly accountable.  In behalf of the Balao family, we are very grateful for your continued support that has made us defiant against state fascism during these trying times.

Respectfully,

BEVERLY L. LONGID                                                    JUDE BAGGO

Chairperson                                                                   Secretary General

Cordillera Peoples Alliance                                             Cordillera Human Rights Alliance

#2 P. Guevarra St, Baguio City                                    #10 Rimando Road Baguio City

e-mail: cpa@cpaphils.org                                            e-mail: chra@cpaphils.org

tel: 074 442-2115                                                           telefax: 074 445 2586