Balao still alive, activists say

By Desiree Caluza
Northern Luzon Bureau, Philippines

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Missing activist James Balao is still alive and is being detained in a military camp.

This was the information received by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance on Thursday, after the first hearing on the petition for a writ of amparo for the surfacing of Balao at the regional trial court in La Trinidad, Benguet.

"Our source informed us that James is still alive and is in detention," Beverly Longid, CPA chair, said in a forum here on Friday.

Asked to comment on the possibility that his son was still alive, Balao's father Arthur said: "I am happy to learn that my son is still alive but I am still confused because I do not have the information about his whereabouts."

On Thursday, the family of Balao and militant groups led by the CPA and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) held a rally in front of the Justice Hall of Benguet to drum up the call to issue the writ.

During the hearing, representatives of the Office of the Solicitor General, which represented the respondents in the petition, tried to have the case dismissed but failed.

A witness, Aniceto Adawing who was cross-examined during the hearing, said he saw five armed men accost Balao in Barangay Lower Tomay in La Trinidad on September 17.

Adawing said the men poked their Armalite rifle and .45 cal. guns at Balao and announced that they were arresting him for suspected illegal drug pushing.

Adawing said he was certain that the men were from the police.

Associate Solicitor Gerik Caesare Paderanga said most of the petitions which were filed for issuance of the writ had been dismissed due to baseless accusations.

Balao's family filed the petition to compel the military, James' suspected abductor, to produce him.

The family asked the court to direct the military to disclose the whereabouts of Balao, a founding member of the CPA.

The family also asked the court to allow its authorized representatives to inspect military or police facilities where Balao was believed detained.

The OSG also failed to submit a return during a hearing, which, according to human rights lawyers, was a violation of the procedure.

A return is the answer of the respondents to the issues against them which should be submitted five days after the petition was received.

Paderanga said they failed to submit the return because the process would take long as the respondents involved extraordinary people such as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Cabinet secretaries and police and military officials.

"We understand that the family is suffering but the submission of the return will require a lot of time. We have to be practical," he said.

Lawyer Mary Ann Bayang, Balao counsel, said the failure of the government to submit its response because they were extraordinary people was a flimsy excuse.

"Saying that the respondents were extraordinary people was not an excuse. Whether they were ordinary or extraordinary people, they should be treated equally before the court. The more that they have to comply because they are public officials," she said.

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