• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines

Resist the Arroyo Regime’s Terrorism and Impunity! Hold GMA Accountable for James Balao’s Enforced Disappearance!

September 17, 2009

Last September 17, 2008, at around 8:00 to 8:30 in the morning, James Balao was abducted by five State security agents in Tomay, La Trinidad, Benguet. At gunpoint, they took and dragged him into a white vehicle. Before his abductors were able to stop him from speaking, he was able to ask the frightened onlookers, “Please ask them what I have done wrong!”

We gather today to mark the 365th day since then.

From that day, we, together with James’ family, clan, friends and colleagues tried all means to search for him.

We went to different military camps and police headquarters and offices here in Baguio City, in Ilocos Sur, Abra and as far as Camp Crame, Camp Aguinaldo and Fort Bonifacio. We met with officials of the Commission on Human Rights, Congress representatives, and other government officials. We filed complaints at the Commission on Human Rights, Committee on Human Rights of the House of Representatives, Joint Monitoring Committee and the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID). We filed a case for a writ of amparo for James and continue to pursue it at the Supreme Court. We seriously took every lead that came our way in our efforts to locate him. His family has demanded the different government officials, including President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to release and surface him.

It has been 365 days and he is still not with his family and friends. The Arroyo regime continues to keep him away from his work of serving the people.

James was forcibly taken by the Arroyo regime in the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya. The State means to silence people critical of the government like him whom they have labeled as “enemies”. Through terroristic acts like these, the Arroyo regime has no respect to the very basic rights of these people and the fact that they are members of legal people’s organizations exercising their right to dissent based on the very limited democratic space allowed by this government.

James is a good son, not only to his parents but to the indigenous peoples and the nation. He has given his time, skills and capabilities to help realize social justice, the respect of indigenous peoples rights and human rights. He worked to see to it that the lives of the people were uplifted. He linked arms with the others who shared this passion. He became a founding member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and has continued, to the time of his abduction, to do what was right, and true, and just.

It has been 365 days since James went missing.

No one, no family should be made to experience the anguish caused by an enforced disappearance. The government that has perpetrated this should be held fully accountable. The state policy, Oplan Bantay Laya that justifies human rights violations such as this should be scrapped.

In our continuing search for him and for other desaparecidos, we remain hopeful that he is alive. We will persist until we find him. The response to the call for Mabtad! from different individuals and organizations from the regional, national and international level is a wellspring from where we gather our strength and resolve to continue searching, not leaving any stone unturned. We are inspired by the families of other desaparecidos who persevere in searching for their loved ones. We gather strength from people like Raymund Manalo who persist in the quest for justice after having survived and escaped the harrowing experience of torture when they were abducted and held by agents of the State. We draw courage, too, from our knowledge of James’ character – being undaunted in the face of difficulties.

On this 365th day of searching for James, we strongly demand the Arroyo government to surface James and other desaparecidos. The political persecution of legal and progressive people’s organizations resulting to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances should immediately stop. The labeling of legal progressive people’s organizations as sectoral fronts of armed revolutionary organizations should cease as it legitimizes the attack against its members and leaders. State terrorism and impunity must end.

We urge the public to join us in the reiteration of our demands to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. As the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, she is accountable for the enforced disappearance of James and other human rights violations with the implementation of her State security policy Oplan Bantay Laya.

We call on the people to join us in our quest for justice for victims of enforced disappearances and all human rights violations. Perpetrators - abductors, captors and the masterminds, should be brought to the bars of justice and should be meted out with appropriate punishment.

Today, we gather together to strongly convey that we will persevere until we find James Balao.