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Army officer in Burgos disappearance acquitted

MANILA, Philippines — The lone military official charged in the enforce disappearance of Jonas Burgos in 2007 was acquitted of arbitrary detention charges yesterday by a Quezon City regional trial court (RTC).

QC-RTC Branch 216 Judge Alfonso Ruiz said that the prosecution failed to prove Army Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr.’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt on the charges of violation of Article 124 (arbitrary detention) of the Revised Penal Code.

Baliaga expressed relief on his acquittal, saying that justice was finally served on his part four years after the case was formally filed before the court.

Baliaga was acquitted of the crime after Ruiz ruled that the prosecution only presented circumstantial evidence with the discovery that the vehicle with license plate TAB-194 used in Burgos’ disappearance was apprehended and impounded at the 5th Infantry Battalion Camp in San Mateo, Norzaragay, Bulacan where the official was formerly assigned.

Witnesses said Burgos was forcibly brought into that vehicle after he was taken from a restaurant at a mall in Quezon City in April 2007.

The RTC decision said Baliaga could not be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt as the person who abducted and arbitrarily detained Burgos, citing the lack of eyewitness to testify in the case.

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Ruiz explained that while the commission of the crime was established, there can be no conviction without proof of identity of the criminal beyond reasonable doubt.

Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers said that while they were hoping for a favorable decision, they were not surprised with the outcome due to “legal limitations” that they faced.

The prosecution was unable to present the three witnesses in Burgos’ abduction as they admitted that they could no longer be contacted probably due to personal reasons.

Despite the acquittal, Olalia said the fight for Burgos continues 10 years after his disappearance.

Olalia said they are looking at the possibility of filing charges based on the law on enforced or involuntary disappearances signed in 2009 by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Olalia also noted that they have a motion for reconsideration pending since 2013 before the Department of Justice on its resolution dismissing cases against ranking officials of the military in Burgos’ disappearance.

The respondents in the pending motion include current National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año and two others. – With Michael Punongbayan

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