By NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IN THE PHILIPPINES
October 10, 2008
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) reaches out in solidarity of the family and relatives of James Balao. Words can neither express sufficiency nor fathom the anxiety stemming out of the sudden disappearance of a leading member of the family and the defeaning silence on his whereabouts. The agony becomes more unbearable at the thought that military or police intelligence units are involved.
NCCP also joins the outrage of the various cause-oriented groups in the Cordillera including that of the city and provincial governments of Baguio,Benguet, Mountain Province and Ifugao , their call to surface James Balao and for a more proactive police investigation. Reports indicate that James was under surveillance by the military intelligence groups a few weeks before his disappearance.
The advocacy of James Balao in the defense of rights of the Igorots is a well established fact. Among others, he is one of the founding pillars of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance that today continues to be a vanguard in the defense of ancestral domain, patrimony and dignity of indigenous peoples in the region. Since then he was with the CPA Research and Education Commission. He also played a key role in the drafting of the original version of the Cordillera Organic Act submitted to Congress.
Given the above, there is reason to believe that James Balao is a victim of enforced disappearance. It was not very long ago when Daniel Ngayaan, another Igorot advocate, disappeared. It was not very long ago when Jonas Burgos, another advocate for human dignity disappeared. And so it is with Karen Empeo and Sherlyn Cadapan.
Our Christian mandate to respect the dignity of every person and the indigenous peoples’ deep reverence for life in whatever form, compel us to denounce and condemn the enforced disappearance of James Balao. Our Christian mandate teaches us to pray for all sorts and conditions of people and remain vigilant against powers and structures that breed sycophants who willingly becometools of oppression and injustice.
We call on all our partners everywhere: as you have stood by us, please walk the extra mile and let your outrage be heard in this latest affront to human dignity.
As Commander-in-chief, the President is accountable for human rights abuses perpetrated by elements of the military and the police. We urge the government to rescind its counter-insurgency strategy in the Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).
OBL has legitimized state and military repression in the name of war against terror. OBL has reduced the role of the military and police as protectors of the people into a brutal assault-pack to protect the interest of those in power at the expense of civil libeties.
We recognize that extra-judicial killings have abated and the efforts of some in the military and the police. But we have here the chiling scenario that enforced disappearances have taken over extra-judicial killings to continue political repression.
There is hope of peace and justice if we all unite to seek and pursue it. There is hope when civil authorities like those in Baguio City, Benguet Province and the Mountain Province join the outrage of the people each time a person’s right is violated.
There is hope for the mighty to fall and the meek to be lifted up when we remain steadfast to our higher calling of declaring God’s peace from the mountain tops to the plains.
(Sgd) Bishop Nathaniel P. Lazaro
(Sgd) Rev. Fr. Rex RB Reyes Jr.