• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines

On the 426th day of James’ Enforced Disappearance: We Denounce the Appointment of Gonzales as National Defense Secretary!

November 17, 2009

Today is the 426th day of James Balao’s enforced disappearance. We remember that 14 months ago, James was brazenly abducted by state security forces in Tomay, La Trinidad, Benguet. We have not stopped counting the days since he was taken. We continue to search for him and have not stopped holding the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime and its policy Operation Plan Bantay Laya accountable for his enforced disappearance.

We remember James Balao’s enforced disappearance today with much more rage with the fact that then National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales is now the Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary. The appointment of Gonzales, despite his bloody human rights record and the fact that he is co-engineer of Oplan Bantay Laya, is an insult to victims of human rights violations. By rewarding human rights violators like him, it validates the culture of impunity that the State is perpetuating. While Gilbert Teodoro was relinquishing his post to him yesterday, military operations in Tinoc and Asipulo, Ifugao were ongoing. This resulted to the evacuation of 300 families from Barangays Gumhang, Inkubong, and Ap-apid from November 12- 16 and other reported human rights violations. With Gonzales as National Defense Secretary, we fear of more human rights violations especially with Oplan Bantay Laya II in its end phase next year.

This State policy Oplan Bantay Laya has kept more than 200 victims of enforced disappearances from their families. The human rights violations perpetrated under this – extrajudicial killings, torture, forced evacuation and others- -are crimes of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Norberto Gonzales against the people which should be given justice even after she steps down as President of the country next year. This policy has equated legal peoples organizations that are critical of the government’s policies like the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and its affiliate and allied organizations as sectoral fronts of revolutionary organizations like the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the New People’s Army (NPA). This makes members and leaders of the people’s organizations targets for neutralization by state security forces. The condemnation of this state policy has reached the United Nations with several Special Rapporteurs like Prof. Philip Alston and Prof. Rodolfo Stavenhagen citing it for review and its component the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) dismantled. In our quest for justice, we will strongly demand that such policy will not be taken on or extended by the next leadership.

On this 426th day, we continue to wait for the decision of the Supreme Court on our appeal for the Writ of Amparo for James Balao so we can further search military camps and other detention facilities, and that we may have access to the information that the government security forces have on his whereabouts. We will not lose count of the days that James is not in our presence or lose heart in our search for him and other victims of enforced disappearances. This is in our defiance of the Arroyo and Gonzales’ wanton disregard for human rights. This is in our vow to seek for justice for all human rights violations that this regime has committed.#