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October 10, 2008

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The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance condemns as disgraceful and deceitful the statements made today by the Armed Forces of the Philippines(AFP) 11th Civil Relations Unit (CRU) about the disappearance of James Balao. The statement saying that James' enforced disappearance "is but a propaganda to attract media attention and collateral attack upon the government…" trivializes the disappearance of James and chastises the Balao family, the CPA and the CHRA for their continued questioning of the AFP and PNP about their involvement. The disdainful tone of this statement shows a complete lack of respect for the parties involved in the search for James Balao. The statements and conduct of the AFP in relation to the disappearance of James has so far been nothing but insensitive and unprofessional. This is appalling coming from an institution whose supposed purpose is to protect the citizens of the Philippines.

Our attempts to search the local and regional AFP and PNP camps for James have been met with defensive refusal. When searches have been allowed, as what has happened last October 3 at the 50th IB in San Juan, Ilocos Sur, they have been of very limited areas of the military property.

On Wednesday morning when the groups attempted to search the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) Office at Camp Allen, after they were informed that a person had been secreted into the camp overnight, even the delegates from the Commission on Human Rights(CHR) were strongly denied access. If the AFP was really intent on settling this issue, as they claim, then why are they not even willing to cooperate with the state run human rights monitor?

Today's statement made by the AFP is actually a rehash of the state security forces' position on all of the cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances since 2001. This denial has been cited and criticized strongly in a report made by UN Rapporteur Philip Alston after his visit to the Philippines last February 2007. The military continues to deny their involvement in the disappearance of James, as they have previously denied their involvement in the disappearances of Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno. In 2007, the AFP spent months denying that they had any knowledge about abduction or whereabouts of the two UP students. The Manalo brothers who were able to escape from the military safehouse came forward and testified that the AFP had not only been the perpetrators of the abductions and their illegal detention, but also had perpetrated heavy torture on the women. This evidence has made any attempt by the state security forces to claim that they are not responsible for the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of activists unbelievable.

The burden of proof that the AFP had no hand in the enforced disappearance of James Balao lies with them. If the AFP is sincere in their assertion that they do not have James in their custody, we demand that they refrain from releasing irresponsible statements and instead focus on sincerely assisting in the search for James.

Until we get no sincere and truthful response from them, we continue to hold the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police accountable for the enforced disappearance of James Balao. The motive, circumstances and information leading to his enforced disappearances and their policy Operation Plan Bantay Laya II points to them as the perpetrators.

We further call on the public to continuously join us in the search for James and to denounce the impunity for the human rights abuses of the AFP which has been a hallmark of this regime and is frighteningly reminiscent of martial law.#


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