High Court orders CHR to probe Jonas Burgos disappearance

Posted at 06/22/10 7:23 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos after noting significant lapses in the police investigation of the case.

In a 16-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Arturo Brion, the Court en banc said lapses in the Philippine National Police-Criminal investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) investigation prevent the court from ruling on a petition seeking the reversal of an appellate court decision absolving retired police and military officials tagged in the Burgos case.

“Considering the findings of the CA and our review of the records of the present case, we conclude that the PNP and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) have so far failed to conduct an exhaustive and meaningful investigation into the disappearance of Jonas Burgos; and to exercise the extra ordinary diligence ( in the performance of their duties) that the Rule on the Writ Amparo requires,” the SC said.

The Court said the PNP-CIDG failed to identify sketches of two of the 4 alleged abductors of Burgos. The police also failed to verify information provided by State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco that 4 members of the Armed Forces Military Intelligence Group 15 -- T/Sgt. Jason Roxas (Philippine Army), Cpl. Maria Joana Francisco (Philippine Air Force), M/Sgt. Aron Arroyo ( Philippine Air Force), and an alias T.L. -- were involved in the abduction.

“No search and certification were ever made on whether these persons were AFP personnel or in other branches of the service, such as the Philippine Air Force…Notably, the PNP-CIDG, as the lead investigating agency in the present case, did not appear tp have lifted a finger to pursue these aspects of the case,” the SC ruled.

Furthermore, the SC said the PNP also failed to investigate claims made by Emerito Lipio and Marlon Manuel that Burgos was abducted by members of the New People’s Army.

The Court noted that under the Constitution, the CHR is empowered under the Constitution to investigate all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.

Thus, the Court directed the CHR,   to conduct appropriate proceedings including field investigations, to determine the identities of the cartographic sketches of two of the abductors as well as their whereabouts and to determine the whereabouts of the persons identified by Velasco who were allegedly involved in Jonas abduction.

The Court, likewise, required the incumbent chiefs of the AFP and PNP to make available and to provide copies, to the CHR, of all documents and records in their possession in connection with Jonas’ case.

It also directed the PNP-CIDG to submit to the CHR the records and results of its investigation it claimed to have forwarded to the Department of Justice (DOJ), which were not included in their previous submissions to the CHR.

In her petition for certiorari, Edita Burgos asked the SC to hold the respondents accountable under the doctrine of command responsibility having presumed to have known that the enforced disappearance was caused by their subordinates and yet failed to take corrective action.

Mrs. Burgos said her evidence consists of the admitted fact that plate no. TAB 194 identified by witness Larry Marquez, security guard of Ever Gotesco on Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City, used in the abduction of her son was officially in the custody of the 5th infantry Battalion.

Mrs. Burgos insisted that his son’s abduction was related to the arrest of Lt. Dick Abletes of the 56th IB on March 23, 2007 who was caught passing information to alleged guerillas in Bulacan.

The petitioner said that the military had the resources, intelligence information and the resolve to mount the abduction.

Mrs. Burgos has named President Arroyo, then AFP chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon;  former army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino; Maj. Gen. Juanito Gomez, commander of the army’s 7th Infantry Division that has jurisdiction over the 56th IB;  Lt. Cols. Noel Clement and Melquiades Feliciano, former 56th IB commanders; and then Police Dir. Gen. Oscar Calderon as the respondents.

The SC, however, agreed with the CA in dropping Mrs. Arroyo as respondent in the case.