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December 11, 2008

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Gathering on the eve of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, legislators, human rights organizations and advocates from the academe and church institutions formed a network that supports the plight of the kin and colleagues of missing indigenous activist James Balao.

In a statement, the group called MABTAD condemned the enforced disappearance of Balao, saying that "the persistence in our country of such form of arbitrary deprivation of life and liberty only shows that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not fully realized but fully violated by the state under the helm of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo."

"In the tradition of solidarity woven in the historical struggle of indigenous peoples, we declare our commitment and support to find James Moy Balao, to end enforced disappearances in the country, and to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people," the group added.

The newly formed network derived its name from the Kankanaey and Bontok term referring to the indigenous practice of community mobilization and cooperation among Igorots in the Cordilleras in times of emergency.

Earlier, the Balao family and Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) have sounded the mabtad call to search and immediately surface James Balao, an Ibaloi and Kankana-ey activist from Benguet. Armed men suspected to be elements of state security forces abducted James on September 17, 2008 in Lower Tomay, La Trinidad, Benguet.

"Each day that passes by without knowledge of James is agonizing to our family. In honor of Human Rights Day, we ask the authorities and concerned groups and citizens to help find my brother," pleaded the desaparecidos' younger sister Nonette Balao.

Presenting MABTAD's unity statement, Bp. Deogracias Yniguez Jr., DD, Ecumenical Bishops' Forum (EBF) Co-Chairperson, vowed that the group will actively participate in efforts to search James in military and police camps and other facilities; organize various fora and other information and awareness- building activities; conduct data gathering and monitor the case; and link with church, civil society, media and other eminent institutions and individuals.

"James' activist life has been a shining example of devotion to the cause and aspiration of his fellow indigenous peoples, in their struggle for land, life and self-determination." added PrimeBishop Ignacio Soliba, Ecumenical Bishops' Forum (EBF) Co-Chairperson .

Meanwhile, Beverly Longid, CPA Chairperson lambasted the government and security forces for conveniently denying state responsibility over Balao's disappearance and for casting aspersion on the integrity of CPA which Balao co-founded.

"What the government cannot deny is that Jame's disappearance took place amid the wave of human rights violations and brazen development aggression perpetrated against activists and struggling peoples."

The CPA leader demanded that the government immediately surface James and end enforced disappearances in the country.#

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