ON April 28, the family of missing activist Jonas Burgos commemorated his nine years of disappearance, which is believed to be politically motivated.
Another administration is almost over but the family does not see any concrete action from the government to make him surface or even investigate the matter.
“If we’ve found Arroyo guilty, then how can we say that President Aquino is not part of the state’s cover-up of the crime?” JL Burgos, the victim’s brother, said.
The Burgos family is not alone in seeking answers from the government on what have been taken in response to the enforced disappearances in the country.
The United Nations Committee against Torture recently urged the Philippine government to explain the cases of desaparecidos during the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment at The Palais Wilson, in Geneva, Switzerland.
“What measures have been taken in response to the enforced disappearances of Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño, Manuel Merino, and Jonas Burgos in 2006-2007, following the publication of a report by the Commission on Human Rights and decision of the Supreme Court in 2011 suggesting that military personnel were responsible?” read part of the 40 issues raised by the committee.
It urged the Philippines to provide with updated information on any ongoing investigation or prosecution, and the outcome of any trial, including the rank of those prosecuted, the charges against them, and any sentences handed down.
While this publication was not able to get the specific response of the government on the issue, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Peter Irving Corvera, who headed the Philippine delegation, assured that the country has been addressing incidents of human rights abuses with “seriousness and firm resolve.”
He said that the current administration “will leave a legacy of laws and institutional mechanisms imbued with a clear resolve to promote, protect, and fulfill the human rights of its constituents.”
“The Philippines adheres to the principle of inclusive participation in human rights promotion and protection, particularly as regards the anti-torture campaign.
“It would interest the committee to know that the implementing rules and regulations of the anti-torture law was crafted by a team composed of government and NGO-CSO representatives after a number of national consultative meetings that were conducted and which were widely participated in by State prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and military personnel, as well as NGOs, CSOs and other stakeholders,” Corvera said.
He noted that the Philippines’ anti-torture campaign has been hailed as model by no less than the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights, and by one of the leading anti-torture organizations in the world, the Association for the Prevention of Torture, in Geneva.
“The Philippines, through its current legal and institutional mechanisms, addresses incidents of torture and ill-treatment with seriousness and firm resolve,” Corvera said. “With the number of torture cases surfacing and being documented, the Philippines acknowledges that human rights advocacy in this regard has to be further pursued because the State abides by the adage that one case of human rights violation is simply one case too many.”
Unconvinced, the Burgos family pointed out that Aquino even promoted Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año as chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, despite his link to the disappearance as commanding general of the Philippine Army.
The family could only wish that the next administration “will not be part of the continuing cover-up.”
“The Burgos family challenges the next President to bring the perpetrators to justice and bring Jonas back home,” they said.
Corvera admitted that there is still a need to legislate new laws that will further strengthen human rights advocacy.
But despite the change of administration, he said, Aquino’s human-rights agenda will serve as a template for the State’s legislative to continually move along this direction. MICHAEL JOE T. DELIZO