By CORDILLERA HUMAN RIGHTS ALLIANCE
“Happy 50th birthday James. Wherever you may be, we keep the hope that you are still alive. We want you to know that we love you and we are waiting for you to come home. You’ve turned 50 today and we, Nonette, Winston, the whole family and your friends miss you so much.
To the State, the military and its agents, stop enforced disappearances. We want our loved ones brought back to us.”
– Joni Balao, youngest sister of James Balao
Today, April 19, James Balao’s 50th birthday marks the 942nd day when he was abducted by five heavily armed members of the State security forces in Tomay, La Trinidad.
Since that day of his enforced disappearance, we have joined his family, friends and colleagues in the search for him. Not a day has passed that we do not remember him and call on the State for his surfacing and freedom.
We do so especially now that more light has been shed on the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos. A month ago, the Commission on Human Rights investigation led by Commissioner Jose Mamauag stated in its report that the abduction and enforced disappearance of Jonas is “not a simple case of kidnapping done by some individuals within the military, but is, in fact, a part of the entire counter-insurgency program of the past administration wherein both military and police forces played a crucial role in its enforcement.”
James like Jonas became a victim of enforced disappearance because of his political beliefs and service to the people. The Cordillera Peoples Alliance, of which James is a founding member has been unjustly labeled by the State as a sectoral front of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New Peoples Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and thus has been among the targets of the State security forces in the implementation of Operation Plan Bantay Laya (Operation Plan Freedomwatch). There have been 205 cases of enforced disappearances under the Arroyo regime, all marked with impunity as no perpetrator has been held accountable to date.
The tagging of members and leaders of people’s organizations as sectoral fronts of revolutionary organizations continue to this day under President Benigno Aquino III’s Operation Plan Bayanihan which is patterned after the United States Counter-insurgency Guide. Since July, there have already been 5 cases of enforced disappearances.
We strongly assert that this policy has to be immediately abandoned by the government if it were sincere in upholding and respecting the rights of the people. Aquino has to pay heed to the call of the people for the delivery of justice.
We call on the Aquino government to surface James Balao, and other victims of enforced disappearance and see to it that the perpetrators of human rights violations, including former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are brought to the bars of justice.
James has always been steadfast in the defense and assertion of human rights. The search for him, 942 days after his enforced disappearance is arduous but we will not cease. We owe it to him, his family and the people he served to continue the search, hold the State accountable, seek for justice and build a society where no one will be taken from one’s family because of one’s principles and service to the people. # nordis.net