MANILA, Philippines — Judge Alfonso Ruiz II of the Branch 216 of the Quezon City regional trial court entered a not guilty plea for Army Major Harry Baliaga in connection with charges he abducted activist Jonas Burgos in a mall in 2007.
"We did not enter a plea because of our motion. The court entered a plea of not guilty for the accused," Baliaga's uncle-turned-counsel Bumin Pasiwen told reporters after the scheduled arraignment on Tuesday, November 12.
Pasiwen made a verbal motion to defer the arraignment citing the pending motion for reconsideration they filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ). That motion is seeking dismissal of the case.
The pre-trial is scheduled on December 5.
Speaking to reporters, Baliaga maintained his innocence. "Wala naman talaga akong kinalaman diyan kaya kahit na saan man dalhin ito pupunta at pupunta ako. I did not do anything about this. Okay lang ako," Baliaga said. (I really have nothing to do with this that's why wherever this is brought, I will go... I'm okay.)
Witnesses tagged Baliaga as being behind the controversial abduction of Burgos on April 28, 2007. Burgos was taken from a restaurant in Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City. (READ: Court pins down army in Burgos case)
The court issued an arrest warrant and Baliaga posted a P40,000 bail in October. (READ: Officer accused in Burgos abduction posts bail)
Edita Burgos, the mother of Jonas, found Baliaga's refusal to enter a plea suspicious.
"By the very fact that he did not enter a plea then there is something there. He was positively identified by a witness," Edita said.
She also has a pending motion asking the DOJ to reconsider ruling on the exoneration of other military officers.
"I do not believe that this Major would do something that was not ordered by his superiors unless he has another reason for doing it. Personally, I don't think so," Edita said.
Baliaga was relieved from his post but remains an active officer of the Philippine Army. Soldiers facing charges are relieved from their posts and placed in a detached service, to a holding unit, so they are available in case they are called to court.
Baliaga faces charges for violating Article 124 of the Revised Penal Code for the "arbitrary detention and penalizing the detention of any person without legal grounds by any public officer or employee."
The military is fighting a 4-decade-old communist insurgency. It claims to have liberated most provinces from rebel influence. — Rappler.com