Jonas Burgos is not in military custody, officials insist

By Joel Guinto
Last updated 04:29pm (Mla time) 07/25/2007

(UPDATE 2) MANILA, Philippines — Missing activist Jonas Burgos is not under military custody, Malacañang, defense, and military officials have maintained.


The statements were issued Wednesday in response to the Supreme
Court’s order for them to present the missing activist before the Court of Appeals on Friday after the high tribunal granted the habeas corpus petition of Burgos’ mother, Edita.


Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said there was nothing to produce in the first place because Burgos was neither with the military nor the police.


He said the Solicitor General was preparing a response to the Supreme Court order, which would basically echo the statements of the military that had been accused of staging the disappearance of Burgos, son of the late press freedom icon Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr..


“As the chief of staff told me, the manifestation just contained the fact that the AFP and the PNP do not have him [Burgos] in their custody, so what is there to produce?” he told reporters Wednesday.


Ermita lamented that from the very start, there was “bias” against the military. He said the government was sincere in finding the missing activist and was doing everything to solve his case.


Acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales and Philippine Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres Jr., Army spokesman, said efforts were underway to locate the young Burgos.


“No orders are necessary. We’ve been looking for him. I’ve been looking for him, honest,” Gonzales told reporters in an interview.


“How can we produce [Burgos]? We will try producing but I don’t know why… We don’t have him, so how can we produce him?” he said, echoing Ermita.


“If on that day [Friday], we cannot produce Jonas, if he was with the
military, there’s no reason not to bring him out,” Torres said in a separate interview.


In granting the habeas corpus petition the high tribunal ordered President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to direct Military Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Lieutenant General Romeo Tolentino, Army Chief, and several military commanders to bring Burgos to court Friday.


The Burgos family has tagged the Army’s 56th Infantry Division based in Bulacan province as responsible for Jonas’ disappearance.


Mrs. Burgos has also accused Esperon of covering up for his men after he refused to furnish her a copy of a military investigation report.


Torres said Army troops nationwide have been helping in the search for Burgos who was allegedly kidnapped from a Quezon City mall last April 28.


“We have been consistent with our efforts to try to locate [Burgos].
From the start, we have been supporting proper investigating agencies, which is the Philippine National Police (PNP),” Torres said.


While no single Army unit has been tasked to locate Burgos, Torres said troops were instructed to “act on anything that may lead” them to the missing activist.


The Army was implicated in the Burgos case after the license plate on
his alleged abductors’ vehicle (TAB-194) had been traced to one that
had been impounded inside the 56th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Norzagaray town, Bulacan province.


Esperon admonished three battalion commanders over the “loss” of the
plate, allegedly due to “negligence” according to the Armed Forces Provost Marshal.


A second license plate (XBC-881) was traced to a service vehicle used by Tolentino’s office.


But Tolentino denied that his car was used in the kidnapping and added that he would have the plate changed because his wife has been using the said vehicle and feared that she might become a target of communist urban hit squads.


Last week, Tolentino said an Army background check revealed that
Burgos was a member of the communist New People’s Army (NPA).


He refused to say if Burgos’ affiliation with the leftists could be blamed
for his disappearance.


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