LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — In a bold decision promulgated Monday, the Regional Trial Court-Branch 63 here found President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and ten others responsible in the abduction and continued disappearance of activist James Balao.
RTC Judge Benigno M. Galacgac also named with Arroyo Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano, PNP Chief Jesus Versoza, Brig. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu, P/Dir. Edgardo Doromal, Maj. Gen. Isagani Cachuela and Cordillera Police Senior Superintendent Eugene Martin.
The RTC’s 13-page decision compelled the respondents to “disclose where James Balao is detained or confined; to release James Balao considering his unlawful detention since his abduction; and to cease and desist from further inflicting harm upon his person.”
In reaching this decision Galacgac found that James Balao disappeared because of his “activist/political leanings.” The Court also chided respondents for its “very limited, superficial, and one-sided” investigation on James Balao’s enforced disappearance, and for using “technicalities and evidentiary jargon to thwart [the] Petition to surface the activist.”
These government officials were the respondents in a petition for the issuance of the writ of amparo filed by the family and co-workers of James Balao in September 2008. Galacgac penned the decision, the first in the Cordillera.
The said decision also noted the state policy, Operation Plan Bantay Laya tagging members and leaders of progressive people’s organizations as enemies of the state, which validates the claims of CPA and CHRA that James was taken by the agents of the State and is not a victim of “purge” as the AFP and Philippine National Police officials claim.
“I have no reason to doubt that in his time he was a very good CPA researcher, educator, trainor and organizer who spent most of his times living with, educating and organizing farmers in the provinces while doing some research for the CPA,” Galacgac’s decision read.
The Court also admits that indeed, the “police and military failed in conducting an effective investigation of James Balao’s abduction as revealed by the investigation report of respondent’s own witness Hon. Chief Superintendent Eugene Martin and Hon. Senior Superintendent Fortunato Albas xxx. The investigation was very limited, superficial and one-sided.”
The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) are however disappointed the denial of the inspection orders, witness protection and the presentation of documents that the State has on James security and whereabouts.
Atty. Mary Ann Bayang of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers-Cordillera Administrative Region (NUPL-CAR) deplored the Court for denying the issuance of an inspection order, witness protection and presentation of documents.
“An inspection order would have saved much time and effort in locating James Balao. Still, we are hopeful that the process of executing the decision appeal, would reverse an otherwise empty victory. The Court has found – and rightly so – that James Balao is in the hands of the respondents. The Court must exercise its vast powers so that justice be done though the mighty respondents fall,” she added.
CHRA Secretary General Jude Baggo criticized the order saying it took so long and has no teeth.
“The proceedings, should be by the letter of the law, summary and the decisions should have been done with the utmost immediacy. The delay of the release of the court decision is undue especially with the urgency of our search for James. It denies to the victim the protection that should have been granted immediately,” Baggo added.
CPA Chairperson Beverly Longid while the Court directed the respondents to produce James the respondents can easily deny that he is in their custody.
“However, disappointed we may be on the judgment and slow justice this shall not dampen our continuing efforts to search and surface James, and exact State accountability on his enforced disappearance,” Longid said. # Kim N. Quitasol