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Missing Ibaloi activist's kin disappointed with PNoy's inaction

A poster demanding the surfacing of missing Ibaloi activist James Balao.
The online news portal of TV5

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Three years after Ibaloi activist James Moi Balao was abducted and went missing, his family expressed disappointment over the Aquino administration’s failure to act on the case and to stop the continued impunity with which enforced disappearances occur in the country.

“We are deeply disappointed that despite all our efforts to have President (Benigno III) Aquino act on James' enforced disappearance, the government has not lifted a finger. Neither has the President made a simple response to the thousands of postcards that we sent to him,” said Balao’s siblings Winston, Joni Strugar, and Mignonette in a statement issued Saturday, September 17, the third year of James’ disappearance.

“We ask everyone to make a stand against enforced disappearance. No matter how difficult the path is, no matter how strong the enemy is, we should persist that our loved ones are reunited with us and that this does not happen to any family,” the statement added.

The Balao siblings, who were joined by friends, people’s organizations and supporters at the People’s Park in this city, said they are even more angered over the fact that, since last year, eight more cases of enforced disappearances have happened under Aquino’s watch.

In his message, Winston thanked those who supported their family in their quest to find James and to end enforced disappearances in the country, saying this has served as their inspiration.

At the gathering, poems and messages dedicated to James were read along with a photo exhibit on Balao and a video presentation on the vilification of militant organizations.

On September 17, 2008, James was on his way home when he was abducted by five gunmen believed to be state security forces in Tomay, La Trinidad. 

 “Since then,” said the Balao siblings, “our lives have never been the same. Our parents did not have the chance to see James before they passed away.  We are always in constant anxiety waiting for any news about James, not knowing what to expect, not knowing how to confront our fears.   What if he still lives and is hurt?  And what if they have taken his life?”

The Benguet regional trial court issued a writ of amparo in favor of James but this was contested by government lawyers before the Supreme Court, which has still to decide on the matter.

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance blamed Balao’s disappearance on Oplan Bantay Laya, the counterinsurgency program of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which local and international human rights experts said had deliberately targeted legal activists.   

The Austria chapter of the overseas Filipino organization Migrante joined the calls to surface Balao and demanded the immediate enactment of the proposed Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2011, and the signing and ratification by the government of the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPAPED).

It further demanded the observance, recognition and enforcement by the Philippine government of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and other international human rights laws and declarations such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).