Family & Human Rights Group Search for James Balao In National AFP Camps
Continuing the search for James Balao, the Balao family with the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) traveled to the National Capital Region (NCR) to conduct a search in the military and police camps here. This, after receiving reliable information that James Moy Balao is still alive and is detained in a facility of state security forces.
Karapatan, Hustisya, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan sa Pilipinas (KAMP) Tignayan dagiti Agtutubo iti Kordilyera para iti Demokrasya ken Rang-ay (or TAKDER, the CPA Chapter in Manila) and Desaparecidos assisted them in the search. They were met by Commission on Human Rights (CHR) National Chairperson Leila de Lima, who just came from an international conference on national human rights institutions in Nairobi, Kenya. In the meeting with her, Chair de Lima shared the conference concerns to the case of James Balao.
De Lima reported that at the Nairobi conference, the heads of 72 national human rights institutions discussed the inability of many national government human rights institutions to perform surprise, unannounced inspections of police and military detention facilities. Chairperson De Lima told representatives of the above stated people's organizations and the Balao family that this inability is even more worrying in a country like the Philippines where cases of enforced disappearances are rampant.
The Balao family has been looking for James, an indigenous activist from the Cordillera since his disappearance on September 17, 2008. On October 6, investigators from the office of the Commission on Human Rights – Cordillera Administrative Region, accompanying the Balao family, were refused entry into the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines based in Camp Allen, Baguio City. This division is strongly suspected of having been involved in the enforced disappearance of James Balao.
De Lima reassured the Balao family that she and her international counterparts had put forth a Nairobi Declaration on National Human Rights Institutions which strongly reiterates that the mandate of these bodies allows them to visit and inspect camps and even safehouses and high risk detention centers. She also informed the Balao family and the organizations who joined the search that she would be sending letters today to the AFP and PNP to remind them of the CHR's mandate and its right to perform these inspections.
The Chairperson assigned six members of her staff led by Atty. Alcantara to search PNP and AFP camps in the National Capital Region today and tomorrow with the Balao family and the supporting peoples' organizations. She instructed her staff not to accept “nominal and cosmetic searches,” but to insist on fulfilling their mandate and searching the full camp grounds for James Moy Balao.
Yet despite the communication to the AFP and PNP by Chairperson de Lima, the CHR team, Karapatan, Desaparecidos, Hustisya, CPA and CHRA that assisted Winston Balao got only as far as the receiving office of the ISAFP and the gates of the AFP Detention Center at Camp Aguinaldo. At the ISAFP receiving office, the officer-in-charge who identified himself as “Master Fox” refused to receive and recognize the CHR mission order. He referred the group to the AFP Custodial Center, where the group was denied entry by Commanding Officer, Col. Bienvenido Casis, saying that there is no directive from the AFP Chief of Staff, Gen. Alexander Yano. The same treatment has been experienced by the Balao family and human rights organizations since day one.
“We continue to demand for the release of James from the hands of state security forces. We urge the AFP and PNP to honor the CHR mission order and that we be given unimpeded access to the camps for us to conduct a thorough search. We also demand transparency of records and full cooperation of authorities in the camps to be searched,” Beverly Longid, Chairperson of the CPA said.
“We thank and welcome the continued support of Chairperson de Lima in our search for James. We also commend her affirmation of the CHR mandate and commitment to the said Nairobi Declaration. As we continue the search at Fort Bonifacio , Camp Crame and NICA tomorrow, we will dauntlessly pursue our mission to find James Balao.” #