Army major refuses to enter plea in Burgos case
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Army major charged with arbitrary detention for the disappearance of political activist Jonas Burgos in 2007 refused to enter a plea during his arraignment yesterday.

The court, under the sala of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 216 Judge Alfonso Ruiz II, entered a plea of not guilty for Major Harry Baliaga Jr., who denied having a hand in the disappearance of the political activist.

Prior to the arraignment, Baliaga’s lawyer Bumin Pasiwen asked the judge to defer his arraignment due to a pending motion for reconsideration they filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ).

He cited Rule 116 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, which allows the suspension of arraignments if a petition for review is pending before the DOJ or the Office of the President.

However, private prosecutor Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) was quick to point out that the appeal pending before the DOJ was not a petition for review but a motion for reconsideration. He also noted that the motion only repeated the same defenses and alibi that Baliaga stated in his counter-affidavit.

Ruiz denied the motion to defer the arraignment and ordered the reading of charges against Baliaga. Pasiwen said his client will not enter a plea because of their pending appeal.

Innocent

Following the arraignment, Baliaga maintained his innocence and denied the allegations hurled against him.

“Wala akong kasalanan. I did not do anything,” he said.

In a 14-page review resolution dated Sept. 3, Assistant State Prosecutor Gerard Gaerlan recommended the filing of arbitrary detention charges against Baliaga.

The resolution, which was approved by Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, said Baliaga was identified by an eyewitness as among those who kidnapped Burgos at a restaurant in Quezon City on April 28, 2007.

It noted that Baliaga failed to substantiate his defense when he could have easily secured affidavits of relatives and friends who could have affirmed his presence in Benguet province during the time of the kidnapping.

Mom still hoping to find Jonas

Edita Burgos, the mother of the missing activist, said after court proceedings that she still hopes to find her son.

“That is the very reason that I continue this, because I want to find him,” she said.

Edita said the fact that Baliaga did not enter a plea means that “there is something there.” She said that they are also appealing the DOJ resolution, which dropped the complaint against several officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) accused of perpetrating the enforced disappearance of her son.

“I do not believe that this major, at the time he was a colonel, would do something that has not been ordered by his superiors unless he had another motive,” said Edita.

Aside from Baliaga, Edita also accused former AFP chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon, former Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano, and former PNP chief Avelino Razon of obstruction of justice.

Lt. Col. Melquiades Feliciano and Col. Eduardo Año were accused of arbitrary detention.

The DOJ prosecutors, however, found no probable cause to file charges against the other officers.

In their motion for reconsideration, the NUPL said the other officers are criminally liable for the disappearance of Burgos under the principle of command responsibility.

ALEXANDER YANO ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES ASSISTANT STATE PROSECUTOR GERARD GAERLAN AVELINO RAZON BALIAGA BUMIN PASIWEN BURGOS DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE EDITA EDITA BURGOS
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