CHRA Statement: Rage in our Search for James and in our Search for Justice!
Today marks the 730th day of the abduction and enforced disappearance of James Balao, founding member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. Two years have passed since that day and still, we continue to search for James together with his family in our vow not to leave any stone unturned. His absence has been so painfully glaring especially during the past months when both of his parents, Jane and Arthur Balao died in June and August respectively without seeing their son.
James Balao, who was on his way home to visit his parents, was abducted at gunpoint in Tomay, La Trinidad by 5 members of the State Security Forces on September 17, 2008. He was considered by the Philippine government as an ‘enemy of the State’ under the Counter-insurgency program and National Internal Security Policy Operation Bantay Laya (Operation Plan Freedomwatch). Members and leaders of legal and progressive people’s organizations critical of the Philippine government policies and actions have been branded as such and have suffered political persecution in the form of human rights violations intended to ‘neutralize’ dissent. Since Operation Plan Bantay Laya was launched in 2001 and until June 30, 2010, there have been 205 cases of enforced disappearances and 1,200 cases of extrajudicial killings.
Operation Plan Bantay Laya reminds us so much of the Martial Law Declaration in September 21, 1972 that legitimized the State’s blatant violation of human rights. We are dismayed that in the first 100 days of President Benigno Aquino III, there has been no mention of surfacing of victims of enforced disappearance and delivering justice to victims of human rights violations. There have been, instead, statements on increasing the budget for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the continuation of Oplan Bantay Laya. From his installation to the present, there have been 7 victims of extrajudicial killings. Political persecution continues against progressive peoples organizations branded as sectoral fronts of the revolutionary movement. 43 healthworkers continue to be illegally detained in jail. There are more than 300 other men, and women who continue to be incarcerated because of their political beliefs including Jovencio Balweg, a peace consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Communities and villages continue to be militarized resulting to so many human rights violations.
James became an activist in the early 1980s because he responded to the compelling need to work for human rights and social justice and because he was among those who followed the legacy of the First Quarter Storm to serve the people. We continue to remember him today and continue his work.
Today, we reiterate our demand that the Aquino government make concrete efforts to surface him and the other desaparecidos. Perpetrators of human rights violations like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the officials of the AFP and PNP have to be held accountable for their violations. Justice for victims of human rights violations have to be heeded by this government and Operation Plan Bantay Laya should be stopped and no similar program that will trample on the rights of the people should replace it.
We call on the people to continue to rage with us in our search for James and in our search for justice. #