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MANILA, Philippines - Lt. Harry Baliaga, the Army officer implicated in the abduction of activist-farmer Jonas Burgos five years ago, was tagged in court Thursday morning by a restaurant worker as among the seven people he saw dragging away Burgos, who remains missing.
And, when the Court of Appeals justices grilled him as he sat as the first defense witness, Baliaga's testimony stalled, and he wept briefly when they asked him to account for his whereabouts on April 28, 2007, the day Burgos was seized at the Hapag Kainan restaurant at the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City, sources told InterAksyon.com of the court's executive session.
Earlier on Thursday morning, eatery worker Jeffrey Cabintoy had just entered the hearing room of the Courts of Appeals division that is hearing the writ of amparo petition in the Burgos case when he froze, and tugged at his Commission on Human Rights (CHR) escorts. Cabintoy whispered to them: "That is Baliaga," pointing to a man seated beside the door, in a blue barong, sources said.
The defense had brought Baliaga to court as its first witness, and when the justices were informed that both Baliaga and Cabintoy were in the courtroom, they instructed Cabintoy to stand up and point to Baliaga. "Can you point him out to us?" the justices asked, and Cabintoy nodded, "Opo."
Cabintoy pointed to Baliaga, describing him as "the man in long sleeves."
Later, the justices acceded to the Office of the Solicitor General's request to hold an executive session, on the ground that there was a "security risk" to Baliaga. Cabintoy was among those led out of the hearing room.
Sources said that when the justices started to grill Baliaga on the witness stand, the Army officer was at first composed, claiming he was on "administrative leave" in April and May 2007.
So they asked him to recount his daily whereabouts from April 20. He gave details of his activities.
On April 22, he claimed, he was in a province for a wedding. He accounted for the following days, April 23, April 24, and so forth. When the justices asked him where he was on April 28, Baliaga stopped talking, choked and wept briefly. Someone gave him a bottle of water, sources told InterAksyon.com.
Last year, Edita Burgos, mother of Jonas and widow of the world press freedom icon Jose G. Burgos Jr., had shared a "Dear Harry" open letter to Baliaga, asking him to "search your conscience" and give a clean and complete account of what really happened on April 28, 2007.
Below is the full text of that letter:
April 28, 2011
Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr.
Dear Mr. Baliaga,
Yes, I address you as “dear” because I look at you as a son of my Father. And since we have one father, then you are my brother.
I write because I know–for many reasons, security being the foremost---that the chances are remote that we will be able to meet and talk one-on-one.
I am not afraid to face you. Truth is, I would really want to look at your eyes as I ask you, “Where is my son? What have you done to him?” I want to see if the look you give me will deny or affirm your answer.
I write because, always, I live by what was taught me, that all must be given a chance to go back to Our Father if we have offended Him. Surely, logic tells me that you, in taking my son on that day, April 28, 2007 while he was having lunch, would not have acted on your own. Isn't that how your system works? A superior orders his subordinates and a good soldier follows the order even if it is against the highest principle of life and freedom.
Tell me now...now that there is a chance that soon you will be behind bars...do you still see following orders in the same perspective?
I offer you this chance to redress this violation of a God-given right to be free.
Tell me, who has ordered you to get my Jonas? Give those who ordered him taken the chance to correct their ways.
Harry, listen to the innermost voice of your heart and correct the wrong done to this mother. Tell me where I can find my son. Do not wait when it is too late, when the consequences of an evil act will have been felt not only by you but by the next generations, for did He not promise “the sins of the father will be visited upon the heads of his children.”
I pray that you would take this opportunity to reflect and reveal the truth. The Lord in His Mercy calls all of us sinners back to Him. He will receive us with His fatherly love if we repent.
On Sunday, the feast of the Divine Mercy, I shall pray that you will be enlightened to tell the truth so that I can finally find Jonas.
May the Holy Spirit fill your heart and the hearts of the perpetrators of human rights violations. May you all be led to amend your ways. Lord have mercy on them. Lord have mercy on you.
Your Sister in Christ,
Edita T. Burgos