April 27, 2010 in Featured
By APRILLE ERIKA GINNE A. MANGUBAT and JOEMARK G. RAMISCAL
BAGUIO CITY— Family, friends and colleagues of James Balao sang “Happy Birthday” as they celebrated his 49th birthday last April 19 at 2 pm, at the Sta. Scholastica Convent, Baguio City.
“ It feels sad and we hurt so much inside. Talagang gusto naming mapalaya siya,” ( We really want him to be freed) Arthur Balao, James’ father said hopefully.
Attended by Kabataan Partylist, Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Katribu Partylist, College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC) and headed by the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and Desaparecidos, solidarity messages were offered to James on his birthday and 580th day of enforced disappearance since September 17, 2008.
Some friends and groups abroad including the Monday Protest Group also sent their messages of sympathy, hope and encouragement.
Ms. Editha Burgos, mother of Jonas, who was also abducted by elements of the military intelligence, gave the inspirational talk. She spoke of her pain and longing for the quick return of Jonas.
Like the Balao family, she had trooped from camp to camp looking for her son. She said she has survived the harsh treatment she faced at the hands of the militay when she went to the military camps.
However, she said she did not succumb to the angry taunting and ridicule she was subjected to. She had survived martial law with her husband, Jose Burgos, who was considered a fearless journalist and publisher who valiantly opposed Marcos. She also admonished all friends of the desaparecido not to stoop down to the level of the inhuman and animal torturers, for the cause for justice is bigger than our rage.
In addition, 49 colorful prayer flags were planted on the Healing Gardens of Sta. Scholastica Convent by his family and friends. Flags were in red, blue, green and white. Red flags symbolize fire; green, the earth; blue- the water and white, the air.
Written on them were messages and prayers for James’ freedom and for justice.
Also, a short video on James presented by the Tan-aw Multimedia Collective was shown remembering his childhood days until he was molded as a mass leader.
James is the eldest among the children of Artur Balao and Jane Balao. One of his niece described him as a ‘’fun- loving uncle”. Aside from sharing special ocassions with her uncle, she also remembers how she understood the beliefs and advocacies of her uncle while they were once in a jeepney ride to a Cordillera Day celebration.
Since the start of President Arroyo’s term, hundreds were extrajudicially killed and almost 200 were victims of enforced disappearance. Many of these are journalists, religious leaders and activists who were accussed of being terrorists and tagged as communists. This is a part of Arroyo’s counter-insurgency program, the Operation Plan Bantay Laya or Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Plan Freedomwatch).
James is one of the founders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. Defending indigenous people and serving the people against discrimination and suppression perhaps triggered his abduction.
On a statement made by the CHRA, it was proven by the Regional Trial Court ( RTC) that James was abducted because of his “political beliefs” and that the Court is holding Pres. Arroyo and her companions as responsible for James’ disappearance and reappearance.
In the coming 2010 election, the Balao family hopes that this will bring change to their son’s state.
“ Keep hoping that after this election, mapalaya sila (they will be freed)…” , is Dad Arthur’s message to the families whose family members were also abducted.
James Balao was abducted in La Trinidad, Benguet almost two years ago allegedly by military forces. Up to now, calls and statements for his freedom continue.# nordis.net