30 August 2012

For more than five years, Jonas Burgos has been missing. He is a victim of enforced disappearance, a crime under international law. While James Balao abducted four years ago, has never been seen as well. Despite pleas by both their families, the truth about their whereabouts has remained a secret. The families continue to be kept in the dark, Amnesty International Philippines said in a statement.
“The cases of Burgos and Balao are only two among hundreds. The families of victims of enforced disappearances continue to be kept in the dark, still not sure of happened to their loved ones. The International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 is an appropriate time for the Philippine government to answer questions regarding unresolved cases of disappearances. We hope President Aquino will instruct the military, police and the justice department to improve and speed up the investigations of the cases of disappearances so that justice will be delivered,” said Dr. Aurora A. Parong, Director of Amnesty International Philippines.
Amnesty International said that very often, people who have been disappeared are never released and their fate remains unknown. Their families and friends may never find out what has happened to them – further compounding their suffering. The insecurity and fear generated by enforced disappearances affects not just the immediate victims and their relatives, but society as a whole.

“On August 19 this year, a brother of James Balao received a text message that James is dead and the family is seeking the truth. In 2011, the Commission on Human Rights reinvestigated the matter and concluded that the military had a hand in the disappearance and pointed to an Army Major Baliaga as Jonas' alleged principal abductor after witnesses identified him.  To date military and police officials never acknowledged the arrest and abduction of James and Jonas,” said Dr. Parong.
The horrors of disappearances have haunted the Philippines for decades already. According to figures released by FIND or the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances, the years 1983 to 1985 during the Marcos dictatorship recorded the highest number of incidents of disappearances followed by years 1987 to 1989 during the Cory Aquino’s Administration.
Over the last decade, 200 cases of disappearances were documented in the Philippines. During Arroyo’s administration, FIND records show 339 cases of disappearances, including James Balao and Jonas Burgos. In the current administration, seven individuals are reported disappeared and this figure includes torture victim Darius Evangelista.
“The International Day against Enforced Disappearance is also an opportune time for the President to sign the UN Convention against Enforced Disappearance which aims, among others, to prevent enforced disappearances taking place, uncover the truth when they do occur, punish the perpetrators and provide reparations to the victims and their families. This will certainly not replace a domestic law against enforced disappearance but shall be a concrete proof of PNoy’s political will to respect, protect and fulfill human rights in the Philippines,” said Dr. Aurora Parong.
In December 2006, the UN adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Amnesty International is calling states including the Philippine government to ratify the new convention.

Together with the members of the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances, Amnesty International believes that for the convention to be effective, a legislation to implement it must follow suit. The convention is considered to be one of strongest human rights treaties ever adopted by the UN. Some of its provisions appear for the first time and introduce important new standards.

In a letter sent by Amnesty International asking for the enactment of the Anti - Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Bill, the House of Representatives through the Office of the Speaker of the House replied with enthusiasm that the House Bill passed during the 3rd reading in March 2012 adopts the UN definition and expands the applicability not only to state actors but non-state as well.
“Amnesty International is concerned that while the UN Convention is not ratified and the bill not enacted, enforced disappearance cases will remain unresolved and lives of human rights defenders in the country, continue to be at risk. PNoy’s third year in office should be marked by concrete actions for human rights of Filipinos by denouncing enforced disappearances and their use through the ratification of the UN Convention and enactment of a law on enforced disappearances. Families of victims must be supported in their search for their loved ones. Justice must be rendered. ” concluded Dr. Parong.