MANILA, Philippines — For the first time since agriculturist Jonas Burgos went missing exactly two months ago Thursday, his mother accused the Army of having abducted him, and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon of covering up the crime.
Edita Burgos said that while she had always held that “circumstantial evidence” pointed to military men as the ones who abducted Jonas in a Quezon City mall on April 28, Esperon’s “unacceptable” refusal to give her a copy of the Army Provost Marshal’s report on the investigation had convinced her of AFP involvement.
“I accuse the Army of having forcibly taken my son Jonas,” the widow of the late freedom press icon Jose “Joe” Burgos said Wednesday at a press conference in Quezon City.
She added: “I am the mother of a desaparecido (disappeared person). I have all the right to know what the Provost Marshal and the Inspector General have found out in their investigation.”
Asked to comment, the military denied that Esperon was engaged in a cover-up of Jonas’ disappearance, and said that it was actually trying to be “transparent” in the investigation.
5 officers of 56th IB
Esperon had earlier ordered the Provost Marshal and the Inspector General to look into the possible involvement of five Army officers assigned at the 56th Infantry Battalion (IB).
Prior to this, police investigators reported that they had taken the statements of Lt. Col. Noel Clement, now commanding officer of the Security and Escort Battalion based in Fort Bonifacio; Lt. Col. Melquiades Feliciano, commanding officer of the 56th IB who succeeded Clement in January but was reportedly relieved in May; Lt. Col. Edison Caga, commanding officer of the 69th IB stationed in Pampanga who was assigned to secure the 56th IB when it underwent training in November 2006; and Cpl. Castro Bugalon and PFC Jose Villena III, who were both assigned at the 56th IB.
“I strongly suspect that either or both of [the 56th IB’s] former commanding officers, Clement and Feliciano, participated in the enforced disappearance of Jonas,” Burgos said.
She said Esperon’s conduct had served to reinforce her belief that the Army abducted Jonas and that the chief of staff had been covering it up.
Meeting with Esperon
Burgos said that on May 21, her lawyer Ricardo Fernandez Jr. wrote Esperon to request a copy of the report of the Provost Marshal and the Inspector General on the involvement of the 56th IB in the disappearance of her 37-year-old son.
She said she met with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita on May 29 “to seek his help in finding Jonas and ask about any information he could provide.”
She added that Ermita “responded by arranging that I meet with General Esperon on June 6 at 10 a.m.”
According to Burgos, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo even phoned her four days before the meeting, expressing concern about Jonas and reminding her that she should see Esperon.
But when Fernandez and her brother Jimmy Tronqued went to Esperon’s office on the appointed date, they were met by two Army officers who had no idea about their request for a copy of the Provost Marshal’s report, Burgos said.
Esperon, they said, had left for another meeting.
Burgos herself was unable to be at the meeting because of an ailment.
On June 21, Fernandez received a letter from the Judge Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Nemesio Dabal, who wrote in behalf of Esperon.
“The letter said we could not be given copies of the report of the Provost Marshal and the Inspector General because of two restraints,” Burgos said.
She said the first reason pertained to the report as a “classified matter,” the unauthorized disclosure of which, while not endangering national security, might cause unwarranted injury to an individual.
She quoted Dabal as also saying that the other restraint was a necessary measure in order to prevent the preemption of the final outcome of the case “through the premature disclosure of an initial investigation result which is taking its course under the military justice system.”
“In other words, General Esperon turned down my request because he was concerned that my reading of the report of the Provost Marshal and Inspector General may cause some unwarranted injury to someone, whom he has not named, and because he does not want the initial investigation result to preempt or be presumed to be the final outcome,” Burgos said.
She said that from the evidence gathered by investigators — including the testimony of the Ever Gotesco mall security guard who saw Jonas being forced into a vehicle with Plate No. TAB 194, which was later traced to the 56th IB — the Army should be held accountable for her son’s disappearance.
The AFP information chief, Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro, told reporters that there was “no truth” to Burgos’ accusations.
“Even before, the Chief of Staff made a commitment that anybody who is implicated in this case will be made available to any investigative body, and that’s what we are doing right now,” Bacarro said.
“We are trying to be as transparent as we want to be by making these people available,” he said in reference to former 56th IB commanding officers Clement and Feliciano.
Bacarro said it was the police, and not the military, that was investigating Jonas’ disappearance. He said the military had only focused its investigation on how a license plate of a vehicle impounded in the 56th IB camp in Norzagaray, Bulacan, ended up on the getaway vehicle of Jonas’ abductors.
‘I need to find Jonas’
But Burgos said: “The excuse of General Esperon in turning down my legitimate request is unacceptable to me. I need to find Jonas, and the report General Esperon is withholding from me will help me find him.”
Fernandez, her lawyer, said police were having a difficult time getting the cooperation of the Army, especially with the supposed involvement of its colonels.
“We suggested to the police investigators to show the witnesses photos of 56th IB personnel,” Fernandez said. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño