Philippine court acquits soldier in abduction case of activist

Court said the prosecution panel failed to prove the guilt beyond reasonable doubt
Philippine court acquits soldier in abduction case of activist

Editha Burgos, mother of missing Filipino activist Jonas Burgos, leads a group of protesters on Oct. 12 outside a Manila court that acquitted a soldier accused of having a hand in the disappearance of the activist ten years ago. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

A trial court in Manila acquitted a military officer accused of having a hand in the abduction and disappearance ten years ago of the son of a Philippines press freedom icon.

The court said the prosecution panel failed to prove the guilt "beyond reasonable doubt" of army Major Harry Baliaga in connection with the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos.

Burgos is the son of the late Jose Burgos, a journalist who fought the Marcos dictatorship, and Editha Burgos, a member of the Secular Order of the Discalced Carmelites.

Suspected military men seized Jonas on April 28, 2007, using a vehicle that was later discovered inside a military camp.

"We respect the decision (of the court)," said Editha. "We recognize that the institutions that are man-made are imperfect, because they are made by imperfect people," she added.

"There is a higher court upon which justice will be obtained," Editha told ucanews.com.

In 2011, the Philippine Supreme Court directed the military to produce Jonas following the release of a report by the Commission of Human Rights that the "military is liable" for the activist's disappearance.

In the report, Major Baliaga was named "principal abductor" based on testimonies of two witnesses, who later went missing.

Lawyer Edre Olalia, counsel of the Burgos family, said the case "is not yet a vanished case," adding that the family has a pending motion against a general who used to head the military intelligence group during the disappearance of Jonas.

Human rights group Karapatan expressed dismay over the court decision, describing it a "clear injustice many times over for Jonas and other victims of enforced disappearances."

"The call to surface Jonas and all the disappeared will continue until all perpetrators are punished," said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan.

She said the court decision is the "most recent manifestation of the prevalent climate of impunity in the Philippines."

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